Forensic evidence may be presented as a silver bullet on television, but that’s rarely true in real life. Science in every discipline, forensics included, is improving constantly, and new research often forces scientists to go back and evaluate old results. Under the Obama administration, questionable forensic techniques were being subjected to further study. Jeff Sessions, however, has shut that initiative down.
Sessions is taking steps to shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science, or NCFS. The NCFS is a board of independent scientists working to raise the overall standards of forensic science in federal investigations, while also checking the science of past cases to ensure that the evidence is solid and that convictions are built on a firm factual ground. Sessions intends to not to renew the NCFS’s commission when it expires on April 23rd. He will instead appoint a yet-to-be-named in-house commission and forensic science advisor.
This decisions will, among other things, likely end a review of scientifically misleading FBI testimony concerning two common forensics techniques. Deliberately or not, these decisions will essentially remove the FBI and the Justice Department from a strong measure of public accountability that the Obama administration advocated for. Nor, for that matter, should forensic science be taken for granted: Over 20,000 drug convictions in Massachusetts have been overturned thanks to deliberate falsification of evidence from one chemist.
Independent review is a pressing need in any justice system, and any steps to remove it should be seen as putting our justice system, and those in it, at risk.