The National Academy of Sciences report on Forensic Science needs


On Wednesday I received a very interesting e-mail from the Innocence Project regarding a push for additional Forensic Science uses in legal cases. However, since there was an important announcement being made, I decided to wait until after it was made so we could discuss it more thoroughly. This you won’t hear about on TV.

In a groundbreaking report, nation’s leading scientists and legal experts call for national oversight and research to ensure reliability in solving crimes.

Forensic Science has long been an issue of interest with me. A number of years ago I did an in-depth paper on our local forensics division with the assistance of their staff. I became interested in it when I worked for a governmental agency and pursued it more when I took some Criminal Justice classes. It fit perfectly with some other things I was doing too. So, when I heard about the Innocence Project it caught my interest and has never lost it.

Starting in the late 1980s, DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent nationwide. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques – such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, fingerprint analysis, firearms, tool marks and shoe print analysis – have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Since experts agree that only 5-10% of a crime lab’s work involves DNA testing and that overwhelmingly they rely on other forensic disciplines, it is all the more imperative that these other disciplines be subjected to rigorous evaluation to ensure their reliability.

Neufeld testified at two of the NAS’s five public hearings, and the Innocence Project shared extensive data and background with the committee. The Innocence Project, which was founded in 1992 and is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, assists prisoners who can be proven innocent through DNA testing and works to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions. To date, 232 people nationwide have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. In approximately half of those cases, unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to the wrongful conviction, according to the Innocence Project.

I am a strong believer in strict law enforcement but only when we know for a fact that we have the right person. Some innocent people have gone to jail because of sloppy investigations, but more have gone to jail, IMO, because of lack of adequate scientific tools.

“Post-conviction DNA evidence has assisted in the case-by-case exoneration of many individuals who have been wrongfully convicted, but we really need the framework and tools to fix the problems upstream and avoid so many wrongful convictions in the first place,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “Comprehensive improvement and strengthening of the forensic sciences in this country will provide that framework.”

In today’s report, the NAS committee proposes the creation of a federal entity to stimulate basic and applied research, set national standards for forensic sciences and enforce those standards – a recommendation that is already garnering strong support from policymakers, legal experts and forensic professionals. “As policymakers and scientific advisors implement these recommendations, it will be critical to establish a federal entity to oversee the research, development, funding, and application of the forensic sciences; and to set the standards, regulations, and reporting requirements that will strengthen the ongoing validity of the forensic sciences,” said Dr. Donald Kennedy, co-chair of the National Academies’ Project on Science, Technology and Law and emeritus editor-in-chief of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“To ensure that the assessments made and the standards enacted are based on rigorous and objective scientific methods, this oversight entity should be housed within a scientific agency of the federal government,” he continued.

Michael Bromwich, former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, who has conducted detailed reviews of two forensic science labs, including the FBI Lab, said:

“These recommendations will be extraordinarily important in shaping the future direction of forensic science in this country. For too long, the work of forensic labs has been neglected and the science practiced in some of these labs has lacked the rigor and professionalism that are critical to ensuring fair and just results in our criminal justice system. If properly implemented, these recommendations will lead to greater investments in forensic science and in forensic labs, including in the training and certification of forensic scientists. In turn, this will lead to a higher quality of justice.”

Academy of Sciences today released a comprehensive report

Reactions to the Report

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~ by citizenjournalistreview on February 20, 2009.

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