Reflections on the Retreat

By Sobel, Allan D. | Judicature, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview
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Reflections on the Retreat


Sobel, Allan D., Judicature


"Distinguished," "eminently qualified," "knowledgeable," "enthusiastic," "committed," "collegial," "cross-disciplinary," "open-minded," and "inspiring" all describe the group of distinguished scientists, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, forensic practitioners, victims' rights advocates, and academics who serve on the American Judicature Society Commission on Forensic Science and Public Policy and the atmosphere surrounding the Commission's inaugural retreat in Greensboro, North Carolina March 31- April 2.

The diverse make-up of the 38member Commission reflects the American Judicature Society's nonpartisan philosophy of bringing together nationally prominent and eminently qualified persons, representing a wide variety of perspectives, to address important issues confronting the American judicial system. Mindful of its dual focus on science and public policy, the Commission is committed not only to exploring issues and promoting research in the area of forensic science and the law, but also to providing improved standards, developing best practices, and furthering public policies to enhance the fairness and accuracy of the nation's judicial system.

Led by co-chairs Janet Reno, former U.S. Attorney General; Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg, Professor, Carnegie Mellon University; and the Honorable William H. Webster, former FBI and CIA director, commissioners met to brainstorm about "what we know, what we need to learn, and how we can improve the use of forensic science in the courts." The first day was devoted to recognizing each commission member's field of expertise and experience and to presentations by individual commission members and guest faculty on current issues involving law and science. The collegial atmosphere of the retreat engendered open discussions in which various aspects of the issues were presented from cross-disciplinary perspectives.

The final session was dedicated to identifying initial research projects and establishing an agenda for the American Judicature Society Institute of Forensic Science and Public Policy, headquartered in Greensboro. The open-minded atmosphere of the earlier sessions permeated the efforts to set a concrete agenda for the Commission and the Institute.

Before adjourning, the Commission established five areas of early emphasis: ensuring the preservation and scientific testing of and fair access to evidence; improving the quality of eyewitness testimony; promulgating standards for, and systematically evaluating the nation's forensic labs; encouraging research and evaluation of pattern recognition techniques associated with forensic evidence used in solving crimes; and developing mechanisms to improve science education for justice system professionals.

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