Last week, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the findings of the National Academy of Sciences report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. The report, published in February of this year, calls the state of forensic science in the U.S. “badly fragmented” and in need of significant oversight and reform.
The Committee heard from a number of experts in the fields of criminal law and forensic science, including: Dr. Eric Buel, Director for Vermont’s Forensic Laboratory; Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of The Innocence Project; Harold Hurtt, Houston Chief of Police; Paul Giannelli
Professor at Case Western Reserve University; Barry Matson, Deputy Director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association; and Matthew F. Redle, County and Prosecuting Attorney from Wyoming. With the sole exception of Mr. Matson, the witnesses all endorsed the findings of the NAS report, and urged Congress to implement its recommendations. Attending the hearing was Roy Brown, who spent 15 years in prison in New York for a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted based in large part on faulty bite mark analysis. “The forensic dentist [at Roy Brown’s trial] used what was then the prevailing method of comparing bite marks found on a body with the dentures of a suspect,” Mr. Neufeld said. “He examined them and decided that he had a match with Roy’s bite. He so testified in court, and Roy was convicted.”
The Committee is being asked to appropriate money for the funding of a new agency, the National Institute of Forensic Science, to oversee all forensic science agencies in the United States. The Innocence Project in New York is spearheading an effort to create NIFS. You can sign the petition in support of this effort and learn more from the Innocence Project website. You can watch the entire hearing or listen to a story covering the hearing from NPR.