Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a renewal will not be granted to the National Commission on Forensic Science. Possible alternatives mentioned include setting up a new forensics division within the Department of Justice, reports the Washington Post.
The soon to be defunct multi-disciplinary advisory committee, comprised of judges, lawyers, research scientists, and crime lab heads, was established in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Jeff Sessions through the years
Its creation followed a report that called many forensic methods and practices into question, notes Science. That document was released in 2009 and by the National Academy of Sciences. It revealed that a number of forensic techniques were neither backed by science nor as reliable as they'd been made to seem.
Among the recently cut commission's goals were to use science to assess the validity of forensic methods in question and set standards for the forensic science field.
As its April 23 term deadline approached, some members reached out to Sessions via a letter, making a case for why a renewal would be in the nation's best interest.
The authors note, "...the Commission has facilitated an important discussion regarding issues at the intersection of science and law that are unique to forensics and require the full diversity of the Commission's members to solve. Many of the issues the Commission has taken on would have been examined in only a narrow or cursory manner, or in some cases would not have been debated at all, had we not been able to participate in this work."
Arturo Casadevall, a committee scientist and one of the individuals who signed the letter, recently spoke with Science about Sessions' announcement.
When asked about the attorney general's possible motivations for declining the renewal request, he responded, "They basically say that we're going to take this and we're going to put it back in the Department of Justice, create a new office of forensic science. On the surface, that sounds good...The problem of forensic science is that it grew out of an arm of the judiciary, and by putting it back, you basically don't deal with the questions that are being asked from mainstream science."