In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice, in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the U.S. Department of Commerce, established the National Commission on Forensic Science.
The general purpose is to enhance the reliability of forensic science and the development of proposals concerning forensic science in the courtroom. The members of the commission are forensic science service providers, research scientists, academics, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The only judge on the commission was U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York.
A recent draft report recommended that prosecutors make available to criminal defendants the same level of information that is provided in federal civil cases when the government intends to call a forensic expert witness. The DOJ became concerned that they would lose their advantage in the prosecution of cases and unilaterally decided that the discovery and disclosure of the information that forms the basis of an expert opinion is beyond the scope of the commission's mission and could not be properly the subject of any of its reports or discussions.
The commission's charter has a specific duty to develop guidance concerning the intersection of forensic science in the courtroom. The DOJ was not impeded in its efforts to maintain an unfair imbalance in the criminal prosecutions.
Rakoff, on Jan. 29, resigned in protest because he was unable to be party to the DOJ's maneuver to cabin the commission's inquiries. The government immediately backed down and Rakoff rejoined the commission.
Rakoff has a reputation for speaking his mind in written opinions, published articles and speeches on issues that concern people who are without political, legal or economic power. While some may view him an outlier, he is a frequent reminder of the positive force of an independent federal judiciary.