Justice Dept. revives plan for standards in forensic court testimony

Aug. 7 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced two projects to ensure forensic testimony meets proper scientific standards — one of them a revival of an effort attempted earlier this year.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, unveiling the plans at the International Association for Identification’s conference in Atlanta, said in a statement that “the department is fully committed to examining and strengthening forensic science despite efforts in the courtroom and elsewhere to reject reliable and admissible forensic evidence.”

The department will develop Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports for “clear guidance” to what forensics examiners can say in a courtroom. Also, once the uniform language standards are adopted, the department will also develop a new forensic examiner testimony-monitoring program to ensure accuracy.

The Justice Department initiated the effort earlier this year in light of revelations about flawed FBI forensic procedures that officials said affected cases dating back decades. That initial effort was suspended until Monday.

“Forensic evidence can be extremely important. But we also need to recognize that it can be abused and misused, as is true of every discipline,” Rosenstein said Monday. “There have been instances in which people have operated in bad faith, masquerading as reliable experts when they lacked sufficient knowledge or failed to perform appropriate tests. In other instances, people have testified in good faith but used language that may have suggested more confidence than was warranted.”

Rosenstein also announced that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has named Ted Hunt, a prosecutor for more than 22 years in Kansas City, Mo., to serve as the department’s in-house adviser on forensics. According to a bio, he’s prosecuted more than 100 felony jury trials, most of which involved forensic evidence.

Hunt was a member of the National Commission on Forensic Science until Sessions disbanded the program in April. The 30-member independent panel of judges, defense attorneys, researchers and law enforcement was formed by former President Barack Obama in 2013 to address forensic concerns.

Rosenstein said he is directing Hunt to “coordinate closely with our federal, state local, and tribal forensic science practitioners and to identify ways to best continue ongoing outreach to these stakeholders.”

The deputy attorney general said the Justice Department plans to examine the needs of public crime laboratories, as well as the education and training of forensic science practitioners. In addition, he will examine the department’s internal needs, Rosenstein said.

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