Washington, DC (Sept. 20, 2016) – Today, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a major new report calling for the strengthening of forensic science standards. The highly-anticipated report, Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods, comes on the heels of the groundbreaking August 2009 report of the National Research Council of the National Academies, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, which called into question the validity of many of the scientific disciplines used to support criminal prosecutions across the country. The new PCAST report focuses on methods for comparing DNA samples, bitemarks, latent fingerprints, firearm marks, footwear, and hair.
PCAST consists of many of the country's leading scientists. According to a post on the White House's website authored by several members of the PCAST Forensic Science in Criminal Courts working group:
In the course of its year-long study, PCAST compiled and reviewed a set of more than 2,000 papers from various sources, educated itself on factual matters relating to the interaction between science and the law, and obtained input from forensic scientists and practitioners, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, academic researchers, criminal-justice-reform advocates, and representatives of Federal agencies.
The report released today discusses the role of scientific validity within the legal system; explains the criteria by which the scientific validity of forensic methods can be judged; applies those criteria to the forensic feature-comparison methods mentioned above; and offers recommendations on Federal actions that could be taken to strengthen forensic science and promote its rigorous use in the courtroom.
"We have known for years now that law enforcement has overstated the validity and accuracy of forensic science and has obtained convictions based on these overstatements, including the convictions of innocent people. This critically important new report released today offers further evidence of the pervasive use of flawed analysis erroneously presented as grounded in science," said National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Barry J. Pollack. "If the recommendations in this report are followed, we will have trials where testimony is based on actual science, ensuring that flawed science does not derail what is supposed to be an unbiased search for the truth."
NACDL has proudly played a key role in seeking the strengthening of forensic science standards and their presentation in the courtroom, including an important 2010 report and recommendations on the topic as well as its key role in the joint review with the FBI and the Innocence Project (IP) of thousands of pre-2000 cases in which microscopic hair comparison evidence was introduced.
As explained in detail in NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer's July 2013 column in The Champion magazine, for more than three years in an historic collaboration, NACDL has been working with the DOJ, FBI, and IP to review thousands of cases in which the use of microscopic hair comparison evidence may have resulted in wrongful convictions. And in a joint April 20, 2015 news release with the DOJ, FBI, IP, and NACDL, the groups reported that as of that date, "the FBI has concluded that the examiners' testimony in at least 90 percent of trial transcripts the Bureau analyzed as part of its Microscopic Hair Comparison Analysis Review contained erroneous statements. Twenty-six of twenty-eight FBI agent/analysts provided either testimony with erroneous statements or submitted laboratory reports with erroneous statements." That review continues to this day.
A link to the PCAST report and related documents is available here.
A link to the 2009 report of the National Research Council of the National Academies is available here.
NACDL's 2010 Report, Principles and Recommendations to Strengthen Forensic Evidence and Its Presentation in the Courtroom, is available here.
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