04.20.15

Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Misuse of Forensic Evidence

[Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) issued the following comment Monday after the Justice Department and FBI acknowledged the widespread misuse of faulty forensic evidence in 268 criminal trials over the course of the last two decades.  Leahy, a former prosecutor, has previously authored the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act to improve the reliability of forensic evidence in criminal cases.  Leahy is also the author of the Innocence Protection Act, a law that improves the quality of representation for defendants in capital cases and provides access to post-conviction DNA testing.  He also co-authored the bipartisan Justice for All Act, a law that protects crime victims’ rights, eliminates the substantial backlog of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and convicted offenders, and improves and expands the DNA testing capacity of federal, state, and local crime laboratories.]

“A reliable criminal justice system is a cornerstone of our democracy.  We cannot function without real protections for victims of crime and victims of unchecked government power.  Yet the Justice Department and FBI have now acknowledged that for two decades, nearly an entire unit of forensic examiners took the stand during criminal trials and exaggerated the scientific significance of important evidence.  This included the cases of 32 people who were sentenced to death.  The extent of this gross misconduct is still unknown, except perhaps to those whose lives were ruined by these irresponsible actions. 

“I have demanded that the Justice Department keep me regularly updated on their investigation and that all impacted defendants are notified immediately.  The Senate Judiciary Committee should also hold a public hearing on this matter, but we must not stop there.  Congress should enact the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act, a bill I have sought to advance in recent years, to hold forensic examiners to the highest standards and prevent the use of faulty evidence.  This kind of gross misconduct simply cannot be tolerated in our criminal justice system.”

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