Reactions to Groundbreaking National Academy of Sciences Report Urging Reform in U.S. Forensic Sciences
The Honorable John Conyers, Chair, Judiciary Committee, U.S. House of Representatives: This report is a wake-up call for us all, demonstrating that our nation’s forensic science community needs our increased support and direction in order to ensure that criminal justice is more science-based, more reliable, and ultimately more just. I thank the National Academies of Science and this esteemed Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community for their work, and look forward to joining my colleagues in Congress and in the Executive Branch in ensuring that it has the far-reaching impact that it should.
The Honorable John Conyers (D-MI) serves as the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Honorable Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation: "People’s lives hinge on the results of these forensic tests and scientific rigor must be applied in each and every case to make sure that justice is truly served.
"I will study the National Academy’s recommendations very carefully and propose legislation to address the need for standards, including best practices and certification and accreditation of forensic professionals.
"As Chairman of the Commerce Committee, I think that the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Department of Commerce has an important role to play and I look forward to working with the committees that authored the report and finding solutions that work."
The Honorable Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) serves as the Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in the U.S. Senate.
Professor Chris Stone of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University: There is a crying need for common standards in our state and local forensic laboratories, as well as adequate resources for the overwhelmed staff in these facilities. The scientific examination of evidence in Iowa should yield the same result it would in Tennessee or New York or anywhere else, lest we wind up with fifty-plus versions of what constitutes the truth. Greater investment on the front end to improve the validity of forensic science will yield much better results in terms of efficiency and reliability for law enforcement and our justice systems nationwide.
Professor Stone holds the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professorship of the Practice of Criminal Justice and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His work focuses on two distinct subjects: the improvement of criminal justice systems, particularly through the use of performance measurement and empirical research; and the leadership and governance of nonprofit organizations.
Christy Sheppard, family member of murder victim Debra Sue Carter: Our lives were changed forever when Debbie was raped and murdered. As devastating as the crime itself was, the two trials for the men arrested for her murder were extremely painful for our whole family. You hear the prosecution and the defense both make their case, and we weren’t sure what to believe. The forensic evidence was particularly compelling. A scientist explained that serology testing showed both men could have committed the crime, and a scientist testified that a dozen hairs from the crime scene matched one of the defendants. We thought it was over when they were convicted, but 12 years later DNA testing proved their innocence. We’ve since learned that the serology testimony was inaccurate and improper, and testimony about hairs matching isn’t solid science. What sounded like science to us and to the jury was just plain wrong. To prevent other families from going through what we did, there need to be national standards for scientific evidence. We need to be able to rely on the criminal justice system to identify the true perpetrators of crime, and we can’t do that unless the system relies on sound science.
Christy Sheppard of Ada, Oklahoma, is the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was brutally raped and murdered in 1982. Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted of that crime. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and Williamson was sentenced to death. DNA testing exonerated both men in 1999. The case is the subject of John Grisham’s bestselling nonfiction book, The Innocent Man.
Kennedy Brewer, wrongfully convicted of capital murder and exonerated through DNA testing: A dentist at my trial said that I bit the victim, and those were my teeth marks on her body. I knew they couldn’t have been my teeth; he was wrong. But the jury believed it. He sounded so sure that those were my teeth marks and nobody else’s. It was crazy. It wasn’t the truth—but it helped send me to death row.
Kennedy Brewer of Noxubee County, Mississippi, was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter in 1995 based, in part, on the testimony of a forensic odontologist who claimed that Brewer’s top two teeth matched marks on the victim’s body. He spent seven years on death row and eight years in jail awaiting trial before his exoneration through DNA testing in February 2008.
Dwayne Allen Dail, wrongfully convicted of rape and exonerated through DNA testing: ‘Forensic Scientist’ is such an impressive title that just putting one on the stand is impressive to a jury. In my case, when the forensic scientist said the hair collected from the crime scene was consistent with mine, the jury probably thought, "Why would the state put a scientific expert on the stand if what they had to say wasn't important?" I trusted the system and I trusted in my innocence. That was a mistake that cost me over 18 years of my life. We have to make sure the science we are bringing to the courtroom is credible and reliable. It shouldn't be up to the jury to figure out what's science and what's not.
Dwayne Allen Dail spent 18 years in North Carolina prisons for the rape of a 12-year-old Goldsboro girl. A forensic expert’s testimony that Dail’s hairs were microscopically consistent with evidence from the crime contributed to his wrongful conviction. He was exonerated through DNA testing in August 2007.