November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009 C-SPAN Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice

From Air America's blog--Al Franken Takes On Eric Holder Over Rape Kit Backlogs:

But Franken, staying true to his welcome focus on women's issues, asked Holder what Justice is doing about the immense backlog of untested rape kits, which can often yield DNA evidence that allows the police and prosecutors to close cases. Congress provided money under the Debbie Smith Rape Kit Backlog Reduction Act in 2004 and 2008 to reduce those backlogs, but there is no reliable database of how many rape kits haven't been tested and major backlogs remain in many errors.

And from Sen. Franken--Remarks By Sen. Franken to the Innocence Project:

The work of the Innocence Project has already led to 245 post-conviction DNA exonerations. And in four out of every ten of those exonerated, DNA testing identified the actual perpetrator.

When you consider that you’ve only looked at a small subset of all of the cases out there, the conclusion is pretty clear: there are innocent people in prison and on death row, and guilty people walking the streets.

The former should weigh heavy on our conscience. Both should be a cause for concern… and action.

Some people think efforts to exonerate the wrongly convicted are somehow soft on crime. I think it’s just the opposite – your efforts are not just morally right, they’re tactically smart – they help us ensure that innocent people are not wrongly incarcerated while the actual perpetrators walk free to commit more crimes.

There’s a lot of debate in progressive circles about what has changed under the Obama administration, and what hasn’t. But one thing has certainly changed: We have a government that believes in science once again.

Believing in science means acting on what the science tells you.

So what does the science tell us when it comes to crime?

Well, this February, the National Academy of Sciences released their comprehensive, two-year review of forensic science in use throughout American crime labs.

They concluded, and I’m quoting:

“Many forensic tests… have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny. With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis… no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”

I participated in the hearing where those findings were released, and as we questioned witnesses, what became clear is that there have been many false convictions based on improper, or at best ineffective, forensic techniques.

And that tells us we need to reassess how our criminal justice system does business.

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Heather: As Megan Carpenter noted Sen. Franken pressed A.G. Eric Holder about the number of non-violent offenders incarcerated in America every year and stayed true to form with caring about women's issues. Everyone from Minnesota should be very proud to have Al Franken as their Senator with the good work he's doing.

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