Monday, January 13, 2014

Hervey, DiMaio named to National Commission on Forensic Science

Judge Barbara Hervey of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and former Bexar County Medical Examiner Dr. Vincent DiMaio, chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, were among thirty people named to the newly minted National Commission on Forensic Science, as was Peter Neuefeld, co-founder of the national Innocence Project. According to a DOJ press release:
Members of the commission will work to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system.  The commission also will work to develop policy recommendations for the U.S. Attorney General, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for formal training and certification.

The commission is co-chaired by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick D. Gallagher.  Nelson Santos, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Forensic Sciences at the Drug Enforcement Administration, and John M. Butler, special assistant to the NIST director for forensic science, serve as vice-chairs....
“This latest and most impressive collaboration between the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will help ensure that the forensic sciences are supported by the most rigorous standards available—a foundational requirement in a nation built on the credo of ‘justice for all,’” said John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Creation of the commission doesn't go as far as the recommendation from a National Academy of Sciences' 2009 report to create a permanent National Institute of Forensic Technology to perform research and set standards. That report was highly critical of the non-science-based nature of many forensic disciplines.

Another appointee to the commission, Case Western law prof Paul Giannelli, has said that, "Forensic science has been a stepchild in the law enforcement community and an orphan in the scientific community." This new entity gives the issue higher profile, for sure, but it'll be a long time before we know if it represents a serious step toward strengthening the quality of forensics or will merely apply window dressing to a perception problem.

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