SHERIDAN — Sheridan County’s attorney has been selected to serve on the newly established National Commission on Forensic Science. Matt Redle was chosen from a pool of 300 candidates to fill one of 40 volunteer commissioner positions, and will help establish benchmark standards for practitioners within the field of forensic science across the nation.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, members of the commission will work to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system. Ultimately, the group will make policy recommendations to the U.S. Attorney General.
This won’t be the first time Sheridan County has shared the resource of its legal leader with a national audience. Redle has served as a panelist for the American Academy of Forensic Science, American Bar Association, National Institute of Justice and American Prosecutor Research Institute. In 2009, Redle testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about issues that ultimately resulted in the birth of the committee to which he was recently appointed.
Redle has also served as an instructor for local, state and national legal interests throughout his approximate 35-year career working for the county. He has taught at Sheridan College, the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and various national conferences sanctioned by the American Bar Association.
The NCFS, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, was conceived after a congressionally mandated report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 indicated the nation’s forensic science system is “badly fragmented” and lacks effective accreditation standards and oversight.
Aside from nuclear DNA analysis, the report indicates no other forensic method has been adequately vetted to provide a definitive connection between evidence and a specific suspect.
An example of a pitfall in the current status of forensic science is the common belief that because fingerprints are unique to an individual, they can be interpreted with a near-zero error rate. The report said that in reality, uniqueness does not mean two prints are different enough that they could not be confused, and fingerprints from the same individual can vary from impression to impression.
The committee that wrote the report concluded that non-DNA forensic disciplines, which would include things like analyzing hair, bite marks, tool imprints and other crime scene clues, serve and important role in narrowing the pool of possible suspects. However, with no mandatory accreditation process for forensic workers, no uniform protocol for handling and analysis of evidence and court discretion whether the evidence is submitted to a case, the integrity and value of the evidence can be compromised.
While the committee did not weigh in on whether certain types of evidence should be admitted in court, i did conclude that court discretion alone cannot counteract the existing breeding ground for forensic errors.
Redle said new NCFS will be tasked with articulating how to fill the gaps in the current forensic system. The selected group includes attorneys, chemists, scientists and investigators that have emerged as leaders in their respective fields.
“One of the things I know we’ll be discussing is lab accreditation,” Redle said, adding that other topics of the committee will include certification of handlers of forensic evidence and establishment of a national code of ethics for forensic sciences. “Many nations have developed a code of ethics, but they aren’t enforceable in the way on might want.”
Redle’s participation in the committee will be Feb. 3 and 4, when he will travel to Washington, D.C., for the first of four meetings this year.
“They’re very conscious of peoples’ time and the fact this is voluntary,” Redle said when asked whether his participation on the committee will affect his duties as County Attorney and Prosecutor. “They’re going to try to be very efficient.”
Redle added that he has full confidence in his staff to handle work that may arise in his absence.
“I have a terrific staff of people behind me that really do quality work for the county and its citizens, so that’s not a problem,” he said.
Redle said he accepts the opportunity with the full acknowledgement of the implied responsibility that comes with helping set national policy.
“This is a unique opportunity we have to improve the quality of the nation’s criminal justice system,” he said. “It’s a wonderful learning experience, as well as hopefully one where you’re providing benefit back to the sponsor of it.
“I would hope we’re bringing back things to Sheridan County and the state of Wyoming that will benefit the state and community as well as benefit the country,” he said, adding that his selection shows that being from a small town in Wyoming does not automatically disqualify professional functioning on higher levels.
“I think it’s a wonderful chance,” he said. “I only hope I can live up to that confidence.”