92 Judicature 188 (2008-2009)
Setting Forensic Science on a New Path

handle is hein.journals/judica92 and id is 188 raw text is: Editorial

Setting forensic science on a new path
The recently issued National Academy of Sciences
report offers a unique opportunity to revamp the

forensic science delivery syst
The integrity of the criminal justice
system is inextricably dependent on
forensic science. Our courts are enti-
tled to expect that work of the high-
est quality and timeliness will be
forthcoming from those who provide
services in this field. But public
crime labs and medical examiner
and coroner offices need help. Con-
gress has a unique opportunity to
revamp the forensic science delivery
system in the United States by adopt-
ing the recommendations of the
National Academy     of Sciences'
(NAS) report issued on February 18,
2009, entitled Strengthening Forensic
Science in the United States: A Path For-
Over the years we have had ample
examples of failed justice when sci-
ence does not live up to its promise,
whether through ineffectual use of
science, over-stated opinions, or, in a
few cases, malfeasance. Convicting
innocent people and allowing guilty
ones to go free is unacceptable to
everyone. It is simply bad policy and
erodes public confidence in law
enforcement, the courts, and the
criminal justice system.

The National Academy's report
offers a far-reaching set of recom-
mendations to right the system and
set forensic science on a new path.
Yet, until Congress acts to endorse
and adopt the recommendations, lit-
tle will happen.
The NAS report notes that foren-
sic science is a critical element of the
criminal justice system and identifies
aspects that are flawed and in need
of improvement. It notes, for exam-
ple, that forensic science is frag-
mented and underfunded. While
the field of forensic science has its
detractors and its supporters, all will
agree that quality forensic science,
delivered in a timely fashion, is
essential to the criminal justice sys-
tem. Many of the important recom-
mendations will take years to set in
place. But the NAS report's first rec-
ommendation-to create a National
Institute of Forensic Science-is key
to establishing a strategic pathway.
Forensic science covers a wide
range of disciplines: chemistry, biol-
ogy, medicine, and material science,
plus a wide array of subjects not gen-
erally found in traditional academic

I Editorials are prepared by a committee of the
American Judicature Society appointed by the president.
188 JUDICATURE Volume 92, Number 5 March-April 2009

departments. Thus, many feel that
fingerprint identification, hand writ-
ing analysis, firearms, tool mark, tire
impressions, footwear   evidence,
arson investigation, bite marks, etc.,
need further validation. All of these
areas of investigation present diffi-
cult and important issues for courts,
who serve as the gatekeepers,
determining what evidence juries
may consider and what does not
meet a threshold of reliability. The
report concludes that the courts
have been utterly ineffective in
addressing this problem. The Amer-
ican Judicature Society-committed
as it is to improving our systems of
justice-cannot but be deeply con-
cerned about the need for reform in
this area and is uniquely positioned
to offer judicial education on the
A number of the recommenda-
tions raise serious challenges. For
instance, the report notes that some
routinely employed forensic tests
need further validation. The implica-
tions of this observation are obvious.
Does this suggest that fingerprint or
firearms evidence, to pick two exam-
ples, may not be admissible until fur-
ther evaluation is completed?
Comprehensive, well-funded, and
peer reviewed research is needed to
evaluate a wide range of physical evi-
dence in order to determine how
capable it is of identifying individuals
and error rates associated with analy-
ses. While studies have evaluated
many classifications of evidence,
more is needed. Naturally, it is fair to
say that just because studies have not
Continued on page 249

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