Crime Labs and Forensics Reform - Federal Initiatives

The 2009 report of the National Academy of Sciences, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (“NAS Report”) identifies deficiencies with forensic evidence and sets forth a roadmap for reform.  The federal government should implement the NAS Report’s recommendations along with those in NACDL’s Principles and Recommendations to Strengthen Forensic Evidence and Its Presentation in the Courtroom.

NACDL has been working with two Senate offices on distinctly different legislative approaches to implementing the recommendations of the NAS report.  Neither bill would fully implement the report’s recommendations; each bill has its advantages and disadvantages:

  • Senator Patrick Leahy’s Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act would create an Office of Forensic Science (OFC) within the Department of Justice (DoJ), rather than a completely independent National Institute of Forensic Science as proposed by NAS.  NACDL believes that this legislation should be improved to, among other things, promote the involvement and decision-making authority of independent research scientists, as explained here.
  • Senator Nelson Rockefeller’s Forensic Science and Standards Act is a much narrower bill that would establish a national forensics science research program and direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to coordinate the development of forensics science standards.  While this bill’s limited scope avoids some of the pitfalls of the Leahy approach, it fails to address lab accreditation and practitioner certification.

In February 2013, DoJ and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the formation of a National Commission on Forensic Science that will consist of approximately 30 federal, state, and local forensic science service providers, academic researchers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and community leaders—selected by the Attorney General. Its duties will include recommending priorities for standards development; reviewing guidance identified or developed by subject-matter experts; and developing recommendations on policy issues like minimum requirements for training, proficiency testing, or accreditation.

For Crime Labs and Forensic reform news, state initiatives, and reports and papers, please click here.

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