On Friday, April 13, Governor Baker signed into law an omnibus criminal justice reform bill that includes the establishment of an independent forensic science commission in Massachusetts. In the fall of 2017, CJPP worked with partners at the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the Boston College Innocence Program, and the New England Innocence Project to host an event at the statehouse to inform the Massachusetts legislature about this issue and rally support behind Senator Will Brownsberger’s proposed forensic science commission legislation. At this event, CJPP students spoke and gave small presentations about the urgent need for forensic science reform. The event was also the first public screening of the short film CJPP students produced last year about Victor Rosario, a man who was wrongfully convicted based on faulty arson science and who spent 32 years in prison for a crime he had not committed.
Together with the efforts of our partners, the event and the film had their intended effect. A forensic science commission was included in a bill passed by the Senate. A less impactful version of the bill passed in the House. As a conference committee reconciled the two bills, CJPP continued its efforts to ensure that the forensic science commission would be an independent agency with a broad mission that included a fair representation of defense and innocence advocates. The final bill, now law, ensures that Massachusetts will finally have the independent forensic oversight needed to prevent and respond to harms caused by misused forensic science. Invalidated forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful convictions, and this commission is one way to hold the Massachusetts criminal justice system accountable for past injustices while working to prevent future tragedies.