DOJ Scraps Scientific Panel on Forensic Evidence

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Prosecutors won a victory over academics and defense attorneys in the debate over what qualifies as sound crime-scene evidence versus “junk science” used to convict defendants wrongly, the Wall Street Journal reports. Guidelines for the use of forensic evidence in court, previously developed by a partnership between the Justice Department and a panel of scientists, will be spearheaded by former Missouri prosecutor Ted Hunt, who reports to the DOJ leadership. Forensic science has come under heightened scrutiny since the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2009 that hair samples, bite marks, ballistics reports and handwriting analysis used to prove guilt were scientifically flawed. The FBI used scientifically questionable microscopic hair comparisons to help identify suspects in hundreds of convictions dating back to the mid-1980s.

Prosecutors say defense lawyers can persuade courts to question techniques that are entirely solid. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said yesterday that the new initiative to guide what forensic examiners and prosecutors can say about clues collected from crime scenes would counter “efforts in the courtroom and elsewhere to reject reliable and admissible forensic evidence.” The move reflects Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on violent crime and is another step toward dismantling former President Obama’s legacy on criminal justice. Sessions declined in April to renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, an advisory group of scientists and lawyers created in 2013 after a series of crime lab blunders by federal, state and local police.

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