Whitmer Signs Order Establishing Michigan Forensic Science Task Force

April 2, 2021 by Reece Nations
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Friday instituting a forensic science task force as an advisory body within the Michigan Department of State Police. 

The task force’s role will be to provide recommendations to improve the use of forensics as a determining of innocence or guilt factor in the state’s criminal justice system, the order said. As the role of advanced scientific techniques plays a more sophisticated role in criminal cases, the task force’s members will be charged with facilitating improvements to the practice to better ensure sound results. 

“Michigan will always ensure that the highest standards are being met when it comes to justice,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a written statement. “The work of the Forensic Science Task Force will ensure that our legal and criminal justice systems can keep up with the times. The Governor and I look forward to their recommendations.” 

Because DNA analysis has become an increasingly important asset in assisting police detective work, the order intends to fortify the reliability of the practice in the criminal justice system. 

The first DNA exoneration in the United States occurred in 1989 after Gary Dotson was wrongfully convicted of aggravated kidnapping and rape charges and imprisoned for 10 years, according to The Innocence Project. The misapplication of forensic science was a contributing factor in 24% of all wrongful convictions nationally, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

“A fair trial is at the core of the American criminal justice system,” Whitmer said in a written statement. “While forensic science is an important tool, misapplication of forensic science can deprive a person of a fair trial. We must ensure that Michigan adheres to the highest standards of evidence, and that practitioners throughout our criminal justice system understand how to apply forensic science properly.” 

The text of the order itself notes that expert witnesses commonly rely on forensics when testifying in criminal cases and forensic science misapplication “is the second most common contributing factor in wrongful convictions in the United States.” While the task force’s operations will be conducted through Michigan law enforcement, the members will be acting in an advisory capacity to both the director of the Michigan Department of State Police and the governor. 

The force will be comprised of the director of the department’s Forensic Science Division, a criminal defense attorney, a prosecuting attorney, a board-certified forensic pathologist, a county-level forensic science practitioner, two other forensic science practitioners with at least five years of experience and two private sector individuals, each with a doctoral degree in forensic science or a related field. 

The governor’s order also pegs members of the state’s judicial and legislative branches to participate in the task force. The chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court or a designee are slated to have a role on the task force, along with two members from each of the state’s legislative chambers. 

“As a national leader in forensic science, the Michigan State Police is committed to further improving the use of forensic science in Michigan through the work of this advisory panel,” Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, said in a written statement. “We look forward to working alongside the other stakeholders to ensure that Michigan continues to set a high bar for forensic science.” 

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