Jail Phone Rates & Forensic Science

Berrien County Has the Highest Phone Rate in the Country

Michigan Radio reports that people held at the Berrien County jail pay more for phone calls than those at any other facility in the country: $16.50 for a 15-minute call. The article cites a recent report from the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) that also found that people held in the Berrien County jail paid more than 3.5 times the costs paid by people in other Michigan jails. Overall, according to the PPI, Michigan is one of the most expensive states for jail calls at $2.10 per 15-minute call in 2021. 

Find the Michigan Radio article here.

Find the Prison Policy Initiative report “State of Phone Justice 2022” here.

Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science Releases Report

Governor Whitmer created the Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science on April 2, 2021, by Executive Order 2021-04. The Order states, in part:

At the core of the American criminal justice system are the basic principles that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and that every person accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial. Wrongful convictions deprive innocent people of their freedom, deny closure to victims of crime, and undermine faith in the criminal justice system. Studies have demonstrated that the misapplication of forensic science is the second most common contributing factor in wrongful convictions in the United States.

Under the Order, the Task Force was created to review the state of forensic science in Michigan and to make recommendations to ensure that the criminal legal system delivers justice to people in Michigan. The Task Force, an advisory body of the Michigan Department of State Police, included forensic science practitioners, legal professionals, private sector scientists, and representatives of involved state agencies. 

In December 2022, the Task Force released its report, which includes the following 17 recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Create a Forensic Science Statewide Body (FSSB).
Recommendation 2: Require accreditation of forensic Science agencies. 
Recommendation 3: Require registration of forensic science experts. 
Recommendation 4: Establish a standardized statewide process for complaints and investigations. 
Recommendation 5: Establish model policies for disclosing negligence or misconduct. 
Recommendation 6: Provide forensic science education and information. 
Recommendation 7: Make appropriations to enable best practices in forensic science. 
Recommendation 8: Promote independence of forensic science work within law enforcement agencies. 
Recommendation 9: Standardize and streamline access to forensic science service providers. 
Recommendation 10: Implement practices to promote quality control and compartmentalization. 
Recommendation 11: Establish forensic science practitioner training requirements.
Recommendation 12: Require continuing education for attorneys including forensic science. 
Recommendation 13: Require forensic science evidence education for judges. 
Recommendation 14: Promote accredited training programs for studies of forensic science. 
Recommendation 15: Amend MRE 702 to correspond with proposed amendments to FRE 702. 
Recommendation 16: Delete the expert witness instruction M Crim JI 5.10. 
Recommendation 17: Amend MCR 6.202(A) and 6.230. 

We refer our readers to the report for the details of these recommendations, but a few key points may be of particular interest:

The report found a lack of access to forensic evidence for defense attorneys. The creation of the FSSB will aid defense attorneys, in part, by creating greater access to forensic evidence. This access would include the “the laboratory case file including but not limited to, if applicable, photos of evidence, all communications, bench notes, worksheets and summary sheets, electropherograms, and CODIS reports.”

The report found that many defense attorneys are unaware of the admissibility requirements for forensic evidence and how to handle Daubert procedures; the report recommends that attorneys should be required to complete some minimum number of hours of continuing legal education in forensic science. 

The report suggests that MRE 702 be revised to clarify that the proponent of forensic evidence must show its reliability by a preponderance of the evidence at a Daubert hearing. This recommendation (#15) was adopted with dissent from the representative of the prosecutors’ associations. 

The report recommends the creation of a new court rule to promote the timely disclosure of DNA evidence to defense counsel as well as the testing of DNA material by the defense and defense experts. 

The complete Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science report is available here.

John Zevalking
Associate Editor