You know, if there’s one thing that both television and movie script writers love, dey seriously lubs dem some science and CSI. You can’t have a police show or tense courtroom drama without scenes of erstwhile men and women, clad in white or blue lab jackets, poised intently over microscopes and machines that vaguely resemble props from “The Man With Two Brains”. Then they come into court and either blow the case wide open, or miraculously exonerate the defendant on cue. There’s just one small problem with this, in real life, it’s largely bullshit.
I had no idea, as I’m sure neither did many of you that this was the case, until I read the new ARTICLE in Mother Jones on Jeff Session’s apparent zeal to keep it that way. But this was not news to scientists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even cops. It has been apparent for quite some time now. To quote from the article;
For years, scientists and defense attorneys have fought an uphill battle to bring scientific rigor into a field that, despite its name, is largely devoid of science. Evidence regularly presented in court rooms—such as bite-mark, hair, and lead bullet analysis—that for decades have been employed by prosecutors to convict and even execute defendants are actually incapable of definitively linking an individual to a crime. Other methods, including fingerprint analysis, are less rigorous and more subjective than experts—and popular culture—let on.
Eye opening? It was for me. The article went on to state that in 2015, the FBI concluded a review of 268 trial transcripts where Bureau experts had used hair analysis to implicate a defendant. They gave invalid testimony at least 95% of the time, and of the 33 men sent to death row as a result, 9 had already been executed on palsied evidence. Bite mark analysis has been scientifically proven to be basically worthless, it actually originated during the Salem Witch Hunts! The only scientific criminal investigative tool that has been proven to be efficient and reliable is of course, DNA testing, as is easily shown by the tens of thousands of convicts that have their convictions overturned because of it.
President Obama, with his heavy interest in and emphasis on over incarceration and the less than reliable criminal justice system was educated to this early on. In 2015 he set up the National Commission on Forensic Science, which had a 2 year charter. This working group met quarterly, with actual scientists, as well as CSI’s, judges, attorneys and even cops, with a focus on standardizing forensic science testing and testimony to ensure as much as possible that it was following sound scientific principles to ensure fairness. Now, from where I’M sitting, this is how our tax dollars should be spent.
Happy endings all around, right? Wrong. The two year charter for the group expires before the end of this month, they have held their last meeting on April 10th. Had Hillary Clinton been elected President in November, this group almost certainly would have been meeting quarterly for at least the next 2-4 years yet, or until the job was completed. But The Great Pumpkin had other ideas. Instead of picking up the charter, he did the only thing he knows how to do, he fucked everything up with an Executive Order;
A few minutes after the commission learned of its fate, the Justice Department publicly announced its next steps. A new Justice Department Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, established by executive order in February to "support law enforcement" and "restore public safety," would now oversee forensic science. Sessions, the press release said, would appoint a senior forensic adviser and the department would conduct a "needs assessment of forensic science laboratories that examines workload, backlog, personnel and equipment needs of public crime laboratories." Rather than an independent body that uses science to evaluate forensics, the new administration seemed to be basing its forensic policies largely on increasing conviction rates for law enforcement.
So, where does Jeff Sessions fit into all of this? Right about here. As a prosecutor, both at the state and federal levels, Sessions loved forensic science, it put away the really bad, mostly brown and black guys, that’s all that counted. But when it came to the actual “science” part of forensic science? Maybe not so much. In his history in the Senate, he was an adversarial examiner of any witness in a hearing that dared to doubt the accuracy of forensic science just as it is;
But when it comes to regulating local crime labs or subjecting forensics to scientific studies, Sessions has been a skeptic. Questions about the reliability of forensic methods irked him because they hurt prosecutors' ability to win convictions based on forensic evidence; calls for more oversight contradicted his desire to see local law enforcement unencumbered by federal oversight or regulation. Given this history, it wasn't a surprise that Sessions chose to end the commission and bring forensic science research back under the direct supervision of the Justice Department.
So there you have it. A perfectly viable, functional, necessary committee, being put out of business for wanting accuracy in criminology and its testing procedures. How much could this Commission cost? It only met quarterly, and I’m betting that most of those experts would be happy to donate their time, maybe throw in travel expenses and a room. But no, this Commission had the distinct possibility of making it harder to put black and brown people away for as long as possible, therefore it had to go. Soulless assholes.