Forensics Reform: Will Senator Leahy behave as a former prosecutor, or will he behave as a Statesman? Time will tell.
Dear Senator Leahy,
I have read your December 17, 2010 announcement that you intend to introduce Forensics Reform legislation.
I wish to express my opinion on the subject as an advocate for Florida inmates Jeff Abramoski, Crosley Green, Monte Adams, William ‘Tommy” Zeigler, Stephen Epperly, John Dobbs and others. [I meant to include Leo Schofield, not Stephen Epperly; Epperly is a Virginia inmate that I advocate for.]
It is germane to explain my advocacy. I am a three-time victim of public corruption determined to prevail this time. I switched my focus from my battles when I realized that some of the same Brevard County, FL public servants who refused me lawful protections participated in frame-ups and coverups of an unimaginable scale.
Any belief that either law enforcement or prosecutors wish there to be clear forensics standards is easily proven false. Although there are too many examples to count, I will offer the most obvious.
The FBI announced some time ago that their “bullet lead analysis,” in use for approximately four decades, was of no value. They sent letters informing the @2,500 involved prosecutorial entities. Those prosecutorial entities did nothing. Law enforcement nationwide was aware of the FBI’s admission, and did nothing. The American Bar Association was aware, and did nothing. Aware that no reasonable reaction to their announcement had transpired, despite their color-of-law mandates, the FBI took no further action; a second letter to the actual inmates involved would have cost next to nothing.
There are only carrots and no sticks for law enforcement, prosecutors and agencies responsible for their oversight to ignore forensic advances. Case law and legislated immunities allow all to put their personal career paths ahead of delivering justice, and the vast majority demonstrably choose to appear to have always been right in arrests and prosecutions, regardless of the harm done.
The worst case law immunities were born of Imbler v Pachtman and Van de Kamp v Goldstein. Both clearly establishes unequal justice; fines, suspension and/or disbarment are punishments unbefitting deliberately framing an innocent. And as light as those punishments are, the Bar rarely administers them. Recent USA Today articles addressed the rarity without noting that Congress needs to override civil immunities – they are unconstitutional, and they have killed. I refer to Imber v Pachtman as the Bicentennial Blight. It needs to be eradicated, its damage is bloody and incomprehensibly voluminous.
The resulting intact false convictions are a tax issue on a variety of fronts. The Bar claims to protect the public and its members equally, does nothing of the sort, yet enjoys tax exemption for its false assertion. The families of incarcerated innocents that the Bar failed to protect through policing prosecutors and their supervisors often lose all their accumulated after-tax assets in paying legal fees, and are at all times taxed on incomes as though justice were readily available. Taxpayers unrelated to incarcerated innocents for the most part have no knowledge that they are paying to warehouse harmless individuals while the actual rapists and killers find new victims among them. These duped taxpayers fund junk science, unawares, like the multi-year federal grants disbursed to Kenneth Furton at Florida International University to study “scent evidence.” There are likely 2,500 scent evidence cases in need of rapid, legitimate review, and as Furton lied on the stand in support of prolific, phony Texas dog handler Keith Pikett, he will likely lie for all dog handlers.
The public enthusiasm for “reform” expressed by law enforcement, prosecutors and supervisory agencies is not supported by private behaviors, as those private behaviors should have had them reacting to advances in forensics of their own accord, even on aged convictions, without Congressional involvement. It is perhaps human nature to wish to appear to have taken unassailable actions in apprehending and prosecuting criminals. But catering to human nature in this instance has to end abruptly.
The families of incarcerated innocents are inherently divided, and innocence advocacy organizations give misleading public voice to their plight. Please do not let these families be vanquished by eminence fronts.
Thank you for your willingness to allow input from advocates regarding Forensics Reform. I look forward to your reply.
Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Legislative Proposals For Forensics Reform December 17, 2010
For nearly two years, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been examining serious issues in forensic science that go to the heart of our criminal justice system. The Committee has studied the problem exhaustively, and we reached out to a wide array of experts and stakeholders. While the days of the 111th Congress are drawing to a close, it is my intention to introduce legislation early next year that represents the culmination of this process. That legislation will strengthen our confidence in the criminal justice system and the evidence it relies upon by ensuring that forensic evidence and testimony is accurate, credible, and scientifically grounded.
In February of 2009, the National Academy of Science (NAS) published a report asserting that the field of forensic science has significant problems that must be urgently addressed. The report suggested that basic research establishing the scientific validity of many forensic science disciplines has never been done in a comprehensive way. It also suggested that the forensic sciences lack uniform and unassailable standards governing the accreditation of laboratories, the certification of forensic practitioners, and the testing and analysis of evidence. Indeed, I was disturbed to learn about still more cases in which innocent people may have been convicted, perhaps even executed, in part due to faulty forensic evidence.
Since then, the Judiciary Committee has held a pair of hearing on the issue. Committee members, as well as staff, have spent countless hours talking to prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, judges, forensic practitioners, scientists, academic experts, and many, many others to learn as much as we can about what is happening now and what needs to be done. Through the course of this inquiry, we discussed some of the current problems in forensic science that we need to address. But it also became abundantly clear that the men and women who test and analyze forensic evidence do great work that is vital to our criminal justice system. Accordingly, as a former prosecutor, I am committed to strengthening the field of forensics, and the justice system’s confidence in it, so that their hard work can be consistently relied upon, as it should be.
While there were varying responses to the findings of the NAS report, one thing was clear: there needed to be a searching review of the state of forensic science work in this country. And it also became clear through this process that there is widespread consensus about the need for change and the kind of change that is needed. Almost everyone I heard from recognized the need for strong and unassailable research to test and establish the validity of the forensic disciplines, as well as the need for consistent and rigorous accreditation and certification standards in the field.
Prosecutors and law enforcement officers want evidence that can be relied upon as definitively as possible to determine guilt and prove it in a court of law. Defense attorneys want strong evidence that can as definitively as possible exclude innocent people. Forensic practitioners want their work to have as much certainty as possible and to be given deserved deference. All scientists and all attorneys who care about these issues want the science that is admitted as evidence in the courtroom to match the science that is proven through rigorous testing and research in the laboratory.
Everyone who cares about forensics also recognizes that there is a dire need for well managed and appropriately directed funding for research, development, training, and technical assistance. It is a good investment, as it will lead to fewer trials and appeals and reduce crime by ensuring that those who commit serious offenses are promptly captured and convicted.
The legislation I intend to introduce next year will address these widely recognized needs. Among other things, it will require that all forensic science laboratories that receive federal funding or federal business be accredited according to rigorous and uniform standards. It will require that all relevant personnel who perform forensic work for any laboratory or agency that gets federal money become certified in their fields, which will mean meeting standards in proficiency, education, and training.
I expect that the proposal will set up a rigorous process to determine the most serious needs for peer-reviewed research in the forensic science disciplines and will set up grant programs to fund that research. The bill will also provide for this research to lead to appropriate standards and best practices in each discipline. It will also fund research into new technologies and techniques that will allow forensic testing to be done more quickly, more efficiently, and more accurately. I believe these are proposals that will be widely supported by those on all sides of this issue.
The bill that I will introduce will seek to balance carefully a number of competing considerations that are so important to getting a review of forensic science right. It will capitalize on existing expertise and structures, rather than calling for the creation of a costly new agency. And ultimately, improved forensic science will save money, reduce the number of costly appeals, shorten investigations and trials, and help to eliminate wrongful imprisonments.
I understand that sweeping forensic reform and criminal justice reform legislation not only should, but must, be bipartisan. There is no reason for a partisan divide on this issue; fixing this problem does not advance prosecutors or defendants, liberals or conservatives, but justice. I have worked closely with interested Republican Senators on this vital issue. I hope that many Republican Senators will join me in introducing important forensics reform legislation at the beginning of the next Congress, and I will continue to work diligently with Senators on both sides of the aisle to ensure that this becomes the consensus bipartisan legislation that it ought to be.
I want to thank the forensic science practitioners, experts, advocates, law enforcement personnel, judges, and so many others whose input forms the basis for the legislation I will propose. Their passion for this issue and for getting it right gives me confidence that we will work together successfully to make much needed progress.
I hope all Senators will join me next year in advancing important legislation to restore confidence to the forensic sciences and the criminal justice system.