Here are a few items which merit Grits readers attention, even if your correspondent has no time to dwell on them:
Shakira Pumphrey, former staffer on criminal justice issues for Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, has taken a position as Policy Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Meanwhile, Empower Texas has jumped into the criminal justice arena, hiring Lawrence B. Jones III to rein in overcriminalization and limit asset forfeiture. Congratulations to both!
Forensic sciences taken down a peg
News first broken on this blog that DNA mixture evidence involved subjective interpretation by technicians using non-standard methodologies and often dubious probability calculations has completed the circle begun with the publication of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report, "Strengthening Forensic Science: A Path Forward." That document called into question the scientific basis for most forensic evidence but gave DNA a pass. Now we know that much of forensics in recent decades has been "pseudoscience," as the Boston Review this week put it. And DNA mixture evidence, as described recently by a Boston University quarterly, "has never been about achieving certainty. It’s
about partial matches, probabilities, big-time math, and a healthy dose
of judgment calls by forensic scientists." Except that's not how it was portrayed in court. Together, those two articles provide a good, quick, backgrounder on the nascent crisis, really crises, undermining the credibility, if not yet the status, of traditional forensic science.
Forensic dentists bite back
At a Forensic Science Commission committee meeting in Dallas on Monday, forensic dentists tried to counter evidence with emotional appeals and pictures of dead children. Sounds like commissioners weren't biting.
Will post-pick-a-pal grand jury view officer shooting differently?
Parents of a teenager killed by an off-duty police officer want the case the case re-presented to the grand jury now that the pick-a-pal system has been abolished.
Media, outrage, and 'vigilante justice'
The Dallas News asked its readers what they'd do to prevent wrongful convictions. One raised an issue which isn't discussed as much as it should be: "public outrage fueled by emotion and often biased media, not to mention
the mental stress of public officials, law enforcement and those
connected to that sector of society ... can factor in to what appears
in cases like this to seem like vigilante justice." Glad someone said it; glad they printed it. That's a common denominator in a large proportion of false convictions which result in exonerations.
Here's an interesting piece on the politics of judicial dissents.
Cry me a river: PDs grouse about federal consent decrees
The Washington Post and PBS Frontline examined major DOJ interventions at police departments in a story which finds our old pal Vanita Gupta called to account for agency actions taken years before she assumed control of the Civil Rights Division. C'est la vie. That's the job you signed up for, babe! I could nitpick a lot with this story. They complain about costs of DOJ intervention but how do you quantify the costs of a corrupt or excessively violent police department? Are we really going to say New Orleans would have been better off if the feds let them stew in their own problems? We heard a lot of similar complaints back in the day when Texas prisons reported to federal monitors under Ruiz vs. Estelle. But in truth, those reforms are why Texas' prisons never became the overcrowded hellholes one saw, for example, in California before federal courts ordered them to cut the prison population. The reality is, departments typically don't reach the point of requiring DOJ intervention until they're wallowing in a full-blown crisis they clearly can't manage on their own. DOJ is looking to make examples of the worst departments, not those which are merely bad or poor. So while I'm sure it's true departments under consent decrees must endure some excessive bureaucracy and waste during the remediation period, it's hard for me to feel too sorry for them.