Recommendations to help improve forensic science in our criminal justice system
In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), conducted a federally funded study of forensic science in our criminal justice system.
1. Create an Independent Federal Forensic Agency. The primary recommendation of the NAS report is the creation of an independent, science-based federal agency with strong ties to state and local forensic entities, but not in any way committed to an existing system or part of a law enforcement agency. All of the subsequent recommendations are tied to this initial provision.
2. Establish Standard Terminology. The new federal entity should establish standard terminology for laboratory reports and court testimony.
3. Support Scientific Research on Forensic Practices. The new federal entity should competitively fund peer-reviewed research on the accuracy, reliability and validity of forensic science disciplines and quantify the uncertainty of disciplines.
4. Ensure Independence of Forensic Labs. The new federal entity should allocate incentive grants to ensure that forensic science examinations have independence from (or have autonomy within) the law enforcement community.
5. Research to Minimize Bias. The new federal entity should support research programs on human observer bias and sources of human error in forensic examinations.
6. Set Standards for Forensic Practice. The new federal entity should coordinate the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Scientific Working Groups at the FBI in efforts to develop tools for measurement, validation, reliability, information sharing and proficiency testing in forensic science; and also to establish protocols for forensic examinations, methods and practices.
7. Require Accreditation and Certification. Laboratory accreditation and individual certification of forensic science professionals should be mandatory. The new federal entity should use standards set by the International Organization for Standardization as a reference.
8. Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Forensic laboratories should establish routine yet rigorous quality assurance and quality control procedures to ensure the accuracy of all forensic work.
9. Code of Ethics. The new federal entity should establish a national code of ethics for all forensic science disciplines and should encourage all individual forensic societies to adopt a professional code of ethics.
10. Education and Training. Students in the physical and life sciences should be encouraged to pursue graduate studies to improve and develop applicable research methodologies in forensic science through scholarship and grant programs administered by The new federal entity. Continuing legal education programs for law students, practitioners and judges should also be established and supported.
11. Medicolegal Death Investigations. The coroner system should be eliminated, and The new federal entity should be provided with funds to establish a medical examiner system. This system should be supported through funding for forensic pathology education and research, accreditation of medical examiner offices and ensuring that all autopsies are performed or supervised by a board-certified forensic pathologist.
12. Interoperability of Fingerprint Databases. Congress should authorize the funds needed for The new federal entity to launch a new effort to achieve nationwide interoperability for fingerprint data (such as Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems).
13. Homeland Security and Forensics. Congress should provide funding to The new federal entity to bring the Centers for Disease Control, FBI, forensic scientists and crime scene investigators together for potential roles as first responders in counterterrorism preparedness.
View the full report: Strengthening Forensic Science In The United States: A Path Forward (PDF)
View the Executive Summary: Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
The Innocence Project: Forensic Oversight