News 01.26.12

Science Thursday: Congress Slow to Adopt Forensic Science Reforms

Three years ago this February, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its groundbreaking report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” The report revealed the alarming potential for forensic science errors to contribute to wrongful convictions. The report also called for stricter standards in forensic science oversight and recommended the creation of an independent, science-based federal entity to establish forensic standards and oversee their application.  These recommendations can build a scientific framework for the forensic science system and help prevent wrongful convictions.

 

However, as the third anniversary of its release approaches, ProPublica reports that not much has changed. Although Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has introduced a bill, and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller is also considering legislation, Congress as a whole has not taken action.

 

One point of contention is whether to involve the Department of Justice. Members of the NAS report’s committee have argued that the Department of Justice is not the right location for a forensic oversight agency. Co-chair Harry Edwards explains that law enforcement officials “serve different roles than scientists who are charged with assessing forensic evidence.” 

DOJ involvement doesn’t have to be an either-or decision, said Peter Neufeld, a founder and director of the Innocence Project [8], a national organization that works to exonerate innocent prisoners and reform the criminal justice system. Neufeld said a national agency of forensic science should be a collective undertaking.

A scientific entity could set national standards and the DOJ could be charged with accreditation and certification.

 

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background on the NAS report

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