Forensic Science Commission Expires

On April 10, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new approach to "advance forensic science and help combat the rise in violent crime." This approach includes allowing the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) to expire. The NCFS held its final meeting on April 10-11, 2017.

The National Commission on Forensic Science — established in 2013 by the Department of Justice, in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — was s a direct result of the 2009 NAS Forensic Science Report. Its purpose was to "enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science." The commission was made up of federal, state, and local forensic science service providers, research scientists and academics, law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, and other stakeholders from across the United States. It held 13 meetings between February 2014 and April 2017.

Several days ahead of the announcement, six members of the NCFS wrote a letter to Sessions — obtained by the Washington Post — encouraging the renewal of the commission's charter.

"This Commission's existence is an indispensable way for the DOJ to communicate its commitment to high quality and rigorous forensic science," they wrote. "We believe that the Commission's charter must be renewed for the forensic science community to realize the benefits of the work that has been initiated, but will be left incomplete, should the Commission be allowed to end."

Sessions' April 10 announcement explained that a new forensics subcommittee will be formed under the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The subcommittee's aim will be to "increase the capacity of forensic science providers, improve the reliability of forensic analysis, and permit reporting of forensic results with greater specificity," according to the press release.

“The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime and increasing public safety,” said Attorney General Sessions. “As we decide how to move forward, we bear in mind that the Department is just one piece of the larger criminal justice system and that the vast majority of forensic science is practiced by state and local forensic laboratories and is used by state and local prosecutors. We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field.”

Sessions' office announced three upcoming actions from the DOJ:

1) Appoint a Senior Forensic Advisor who will work with forensic science stakeholders and advise DOJ leadership;

2) Conduct a needs assessment of forensic science laboratories to examine workload, backlog, personnel, and equipment needs of public crime laboratories, as well as the needs of academic and non-traditional forensic science practitioners. A report it to be issued to Congress; and

3) Publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment

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