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Whitmer executive order creates Michigan forensic science task force

Judge's gavel with books on a desk

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed an executive order creating a Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science — a move advocates for the wrongfully convicted and some state lawmakers have long called for.

This new task force is charged with reviewing the current state of forensic science in Michigan, and providing its findings and recommendations to the governor by the end of the year.

"A fair trial is at the core of the American criminal justice system,” Whitmer said in a 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 executive orderstates that “studies have demonstrated that the misapplication of forensic science is the second most common contributing factor in wrongful convictions in the United States. Even though this state’s world-class forensic science laboratories reliably deliver sound results, forensic science goes well beyond the work of our labs….

“It is vital that the State of Michigan and its courts rigorously adhere to best practices for the use of forensic science within the criminal justice system. Moreover, these practices are evolving faster than ever with the advancement of new technology and scientific practices.”

The task force will be housed within the Michigan State Police. State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper, and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack will serve as co-chairs. Other members include medical practitioners, lawyers, government officials, and academics.

According to the governor’s office, their findings will recommend, among other things, methodology improvements, processes to address misconduct, and procedures to update stakeholders on developments in forensic science.

Several recently-exonerated people in Michigan were convicted based on faulty or fraudulent forensic science.

State Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), the co-sponsor of bills that called for the creation of a Michigan Forensic Science Conviction, called the task force an exciting step. Other innocence advocates applauded it too.

“We know that so many wrongful convictions are the result of faulty forensic science,” Chang tweeted on Friday. “This task force is a needed step to ensure our justice system works properly and to prevent wrongful convictions.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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