Standards provide the foundation against which performance, reliability, and validity can be assessed. Adherence to standards reduces bias, improves consistency, and enhances the validity and reliability of results. Standards reduce variability resulting from the idiosyncratic tendencies of the individual examiner—for example, setting conditions under which one can declare a “match” in forensic identifications. They make it possible to replicate and empirically test procedures and help disentangle method errors from practitioner errors. Importantly, standards not only guide practice but also can serve as guideposts in accreditation and certification programs. Many forensic science disciplines have developed standards, but others have not, which contributes to questions about the validity of conclusions.

Several groups produce standards for use in the forensic science disciplines. For example, ASTM International (ASTM), originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. In the area of forensic science it offers, for example:

  • Standard Guide for Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examiners

  • Standard Guide for Forensic Paint Analysis and Comparison

  • Standard Guide for Nondestructive Examination of Paper

  • Standard Guide for Forensic Analysis of Fibers by Infrared Spectroscopy

  • Standard Terminology for Expressing Conclusions of Forensic Document Examiners

At the federal level, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducts research to establish standards in a limited number of forensic areas, for example, organic gunshot residue analysis, trace explosives detectors, and improvised explosive devices.23 Its laboratories develop tests, test methods, produce reference data, conduct proof-of-concept implementations, and perform technical analyses. They also develop guides to help forensic organizations formulate appropriate policies and procedures, such as those concerning mobile phone forensic examinations. These guides are not all-inclusive and they do not prescribe how law enforcement and


B. MacCrehan. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Analytical Chemistry Division. Presentation to the committee. September 21, 2007.

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