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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward 8 Education and Training in Forensic Science Forensic examiners must understand the principles, practices, and contexts of science, including the scientific method. Training should move away from reliance on the apprentice-like transmittal of practices to education at the college level and beyond that is based on scientifically valid principles, as discussed in Chapter 4. For example, in addition to learning a particular methodology through a lengthy apprenticeship or workshop during which a trainee discerns and learns to copy the skills of an experienced examiner, the junior person should learn what to measure, the associated population statistics (if appropriate), biases and errors to avoid, other threats to the validity of the evidence, how to calculate the probability that a conclusion is valid, and how to document and report the analysis. Among many skills, forensic science education and training must provide the tools needed to understand the probabilities and the limits of decisionmaking under conditions of uncertainty. To correct some of the existing deficiencies, the starting place must be better undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as increased opportunities for continuing education. Legitimating practices in the forensic science disciplines must be based on established scientific knowledge, principles, and practices, which are best learned through formal education and training and the proper conduct of research. Education and training in the forensic science disciplines serve at least three purposes. First, educational programs prepare the next generation of forensic practitioners. The number of secondary and postsecondary students interested in the forensic science disciplines has grown substantially in recent years. In response, colleges and universities have created new
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward certificate and degree programs to prepare students for forensic science careers. There are several types of forensic practitioners, including criminalists (those who work in crime laboratories), who make up a large part of the forensic science workforce and who often enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree, and other forensic science practitioners (e.g., pathologists, odontologists, entomologists, toxicologists, anthropologists), who typically have advanced degrees, often Ph.D.s, and who might work part time in forensic science activities. Another group of forensic examiners include crime scene investigators, who usually do not have advanced degrees; many do not have college degrees above the associate level. Second, forensic science practitioners require continuing professional development and training. Scientific advances in forensic science techniques and research in the forensic science disciplines are of interest to practitioners who must be aware of these new developments. Forensic science practitioners also may need to complete additional training for certification purposes or may desire to learn new skills as part of their career development. Training refers to the “formal, structured process through which a forensic scientist reaches a level of scientific knowledge and expertise required to conduct specific forensic analyses.”1 Continuing professional development is the “mechanism through which a forensic scientist remains current or advances to a higher level of expertise, specialization, or responsibility.”2 Third, there is a need to educate the users of forensic science analyses, especially those in the legal community. Judges, lawyers, and law students can benefit from a greater understanding of the scientific bases underlying the forensic science disciplines and how the underlying scientific validity of techniques affects the interpretation of findings. These three objectives are explored in more detail in this chapter. STATUS OF FORENSIC SCIENCE EDUCATION Demand for Forensic Science Practitioners Demand for more and better-skilled forensic science practitioners is rising at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, the appropriate question to ask is, what is the need for forensic science expertise in the United States? At the micro level, the question to ask is, what are the needs of a crime laboratory in hiring new forensic science personnel? 1 National Institute of Justice. 2004. Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutions, and Students. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, p. 25. 2 Ibid.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward As the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) notes: In recent years, the demand for forensic scientists has increased for many reasons, including population demographics, increased awareness of forensic science by law enforcement, increased numbers of law enforcement officers, database automation in several categories of physical evidence, jury expectations, legal requirements, accreditation and certification requirements of laboratories and personnel, impending retirement of a large number of currently practicing forensic scientists, and increased public awareness of forensic science through the popular media.3 One manifestation of the need for more examiners is the backlog of requests for forensic services at crime laboratories. As noted in previous chapters of this report (based on the 2005 Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories), many forensic laboratories experience large backlogs in requests for forensic services. To achieve a 30-day turnaround on all 2005 requests, the different forensic science disciplines would have needed varying increases in the number of full-time examiners performing that work—ranging from an estimated 73 percent increase in DNA examiners to an estimated 6 percent increase in examiners conducting toxicology analysis.4 The most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook, prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, found that job growth for forensic science technicians will grow much faster than average, with 13,000 jobs available in 2006 and a projected 31 percent rise, or 17,000 jobs, projected by 2016.5 Yet one analyst argued that “existing science programs overproduce graduates relative to the actual labor market” in criminalistics.6 Having an accurate picture of demand—as well as the capacity of employers to absorb new forensic science professionals—is important for colleges and universities that are educating and training the future workforce. Additional information on such factors as retirement and attrition rates and on trends in funding for laboratory personnel could assist educational providers in obtaining a more accurate picture of future employment prospects for their students. The micro level focuses on the skills that individuals need to gain 3 Ibid., p. 3. 4 M.R. Durose. 2008. Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cpffcl05.pdf. 5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor. “Science Technicians.” In: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 edition. Available at www.bls.gov/oco/ocos115.htm#projections_data. 6 R.E. Gaensslen. 2003. How do I become a forensic scientist? Educational pathways to forensic science careers. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 376:1151-1155.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward TABLE 8-1 Educational Pathways to Some Forensic Science Careers Forensic Discipline Educational Requirements Crime scene investigation Jobs are typically held by law enforcement personnel. Meet requirements for joining the law enforcement agency. For federal jobs, a college degree is required. Computer crime investigation/forensic computer science B.S. in computer science or computer engineering; M.S. may be common. Criminalistics B.S. in the physical sciences, with background in chemistry Forensic engineering B.S. in engineering; practitioners may also be licensed as professional engineers (PEs). Forensic pathology Appropriate college degree; M.D.; internship and pathology residency; and specialized training in forensic pathology; additionally requires state license and board certification. Forensic odontology Appropriate college degree; D.D.S. or D.D.M.; may include additional specialty training; additionally requires state license and board certification. Forensic entomology Ph.D. in entomology. Forensic anthropology M.S. or M.A. at minimum; many have Ph.D.s. Forensic psychiatry Similar to forensic pathology, with residency in psychiatry. Forensic psychology M.S.W. or Ph.D. in psychology; often must meet state requirements for clinical practice and may be certified. SOURCE: Gaensslen, 2003. entry into forensic science careers (see Table 8-1). As a starting point, one needs an appropriate degree. The required minimum degree for entry-level forensic science positions ranges from a bachelor’s degree to a doctoral or medical degree.7 Almirall and Furton8 suggest that it is possible to begin a career as a crime scene investigator or in firearms, documents, or fingerprints with an associate degree. It should be noted that the preferred degree is often higher than an 7 Gaensslen, op. cit. 8 R. Almirall and K.G. Furton. 2003. Trends in forensic science education: Expansion and increased accountability. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 376:1156-1159.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward associate degree. Almirall and Furton posit that future trends favor a minimum of a graduate degree in almost all areas of forensic science.9 An issue that has received much attention is the degree requirements for positions in crime laboratories. A requirement for an entry-level position in most crime laboratories is at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or forensic science, and many laboratories require a year or two of experience, with a master’s degree. Over the years, most crime laboratory hires have been and continue to be graduates with degrees in chemistry or biology. Several studies have focused on the needs of crime laboratories. In 1988 Siegel conducted a survey of undergraduate students at Michigan State University, forensic science practitioners employed by the Michigan State Police, and 240 members of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD).10 Survey respondents expressed a strong preference for a master’s degree in forensic science and a lack of preference for the B.S. in criminalistics/forensic science. One explanation noted by the respondents was “that too many programs passing themselves off as forensic science programs were actually little more than criminal justice programs with a forensic science internship and a smattering of ‘hard’ science.”11 Another finding was the importance of chemistry in the backgrounds of prospective forensic science examiners. Also in 1988, Higgins and Selavka surveyed laboratory managers.12 Similar to the findings of Seigel, “chemical knowledge was the most important ability they considered when evaluating potential employees….”13 In 1996, Furton et al. surveyed members of the ASCLD, primarily drug chemists and trace evidence analysts.14 This survey found that “the majority of crime lab directors responding require applicants to have B.S. degrees with a preference for chemistry/biochemistry, followed by biology and forensic science with a requirement for a substantial number of chemistry and other natural science courses.”15 9 Ibid. 10 J.A. Siegel. 1988. The appropriate educational background for entry level forensic scientists: A survey of practitioners. Journal of Forensic Sciences 33(4):1065-1068. 11 Ibid., pp. 1067-1068. 12 K.M. Higgins and C.M. Selavka. 1988. Do forensic science graduate programs fulfill the needs of the forensic science community? Journal of Forensic Sciences 33(4):1015-1021. 13 Ibid., p. 1017. 14 K.G. Furton, Y.L. Hsu, and M.D. Cole. 1999. What educational background is required by crime laboratory directors? Journal of Forensic Sciences 44:128-132. 15 Ibid., p. 130.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Proliferation of Forensic Science Programs In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the forensic science disciplines by the media in the form of many new books, movies, high-profile court cases, and, especially, television shows such as Crime Scene Investigation (or CSI).16 This media attention has resulted in explosive demand by college (as well as primary and secondary school) students for academic courses and degree programs that will prepare them for careers in forensic science that are like those portrayed in the media. Evidence of this is the dramatic rise in enrollments in forensic science courses on college campuses.17 One issue facing academic forensic science programs is combating Hollywood’s version of the career of a forensic practitioner. “Students who enter forensic science programs often expect to work in conditions similar to the television crime shows they watch. Many find they are unprepared for the reality of a career in the field. ‘A lot of new students come to our programs looking for an exciting career. Unfortunately, they come with unrealistic expectations,’ says Charles Tindall, director of forensic science at the Metropolitan State College of Denver.”18 Until recently, there were few academic programs in the forensic science disciplines. The earliest forensic science degree programs and the oldest continually functioning educational degree programs in forensic science in the United States were established at Michigan State University in 1946 and the University of California at Berkeley in 1950.19 A survey conducted in the mid-1970s located 22 colleges and universities in the United States offering degrees (in one case a certificate) in criminalistics/forensic science, although some of these institutions offered multiple degrees.20 16 See, e.g., S. Smallwood. 2002. As seen on TV. Chronicle of Higher Education 48(45): A8-A10. 17 There have been similar increases in demand at the K-12 level. Forensic science has become a popular component of science teaching. An informal survey conducted in 2004 by the National Science Teachers Association found that, “Of the 450 middle and high school science educators who responded to an informal survey, 77 percent indicated that their school or school district is using forensic investigations to teach science. When asked if the popularity of forensic-based TV shows had ignited students’ interest in science, the response was a resounding ‘yes’ (78 percent).” NSTA Survey Reveals Forensic Science Is Hottest New Trend in Science Teaching. Available at http://science.nsta.org/nstaexpress/nstaexpress_2004_10_25_forensic.htm. 18 National Institute of Justice. 2007. Addressing Shortfalls in Forensic Science Education. InShort, NCJ 216886. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. 19 A. Vollmer, Chief of Police, Berkeley, California, established the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley. 20 J.L. Peterson, D. Crim, and P.R. De Forest. 1977. The status of forensic science degree programs in the United States. Journal of Forensic Sciences 22(1):17-33.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward In the 1980s, a contraction of programs occurred—particularly at the graduate level. Stoney argues that this was because of a lack of financial and administrative support.21 Higgins and Selavka suggest that the end of funding provided by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 1978 took important federal support away from many institutions.22 Additionally, they suggest that the then-declining enrollment in graduate programs might have reflected the generally low-paying opportunities available to newly minted graduates. In recent years, this trend has reversed itself. Many colleges and universities, seeing the potential revenue from increasing numbers of new students, have responded by creating all manner of new academic programs. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) now lists 138 undergraduate, 59 graduate, and 6 doctoral forensic science degree programs in the United States.23 Not all are science based—many are criminal justice programs. The curricula of these degrees range from rigorous scientific coursework amounting to a degree in chemistry or biology with forensic science content, to little more than criminal justice degrees with an internship. Doctoral Programs in Forensic Science There is no doctoral program specifically in forensic science; the programs noted by AAFS offer Ph.D.s (mostly in chemistry) with a concentration in that area. Some scholars consider this to be a shortcoming in forensic science education. More than 20 years ago, Kobilinksy and Sheehan conducted a survey of crime laboratories throughout the United States and found that almost 73 percent of those responding believed there was a need for a Ph.D. program.24 The advantages of a Ph.D. program lie in its positive effect on basic research in the field. Doctoral programs offer more research depth and capacity, have ties to other fields, have high expectations for quality, supply graduate student personnel to question and check past work and challenge conventional wisdom, and inspire more mentoring, which has two-way benefits. 21 D.A. Stoney. 1988. A medical model for criminalistics education. Journal of Forensic Sciences 33(4):1086-1094. 22 Higgins and Selavka, op. cit. 23 See www.aafs.org. 24 L. Kobilinksy and F.X. Sheehan. 1984. The desirability of a Ph.D. program in forensic science. Journal of Forensic Sciences 29(3):706-710.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE FORENSIC SCIENCE EDUCATION The overarching challenges facing forensic science education, since its inception, have been inconsistent quality and insufficient funding. Commentators have noted repeatedly the deficiencies of forensic science education programs.25 Because, until recently, no nationally recognized, mandated standards existed for forensic science degree programs at any level, consistent quality cannot be achieved. Peterson et al. note that while “the primary objective of all degree programs is similar, the capabilities of graduates from the respective institutions are not uniform. Laboratories are forced to evaluate each graduate student individually to determine his suitability for a given position.”26 Unevenness in the quality of these programs has caused problems for students and future employers. The Council of Forensic Science Educators stated that, “Students completing these lesser programs expect to find employment in crime labs but are surprised to learn that lab management is not impressed by the curriculum.”27 Additionally, the lack of applicants with a science or forensic background means that crime laboratories have to spend precious time and resources in the training of new scientists.28 If forensic science education programs had sufficient rigor in science, law, and forensics, crime laboratories would have to spend less time and money for training,29 thereby shortening as well the apprenticeship time needed. Forensic science methods should be taught in the framework of common scientific practice (see Chapters 4 through 6). Even if a student graduates with a science degree, he or she often lacks education in issues that are critical to the functioning of crime laboratories, including quality assurance and control, ethics, and expert testimony. Peterson et al. found that, “The faculty surveyed believes their students to be well prepared for entry into the field. This is not totally consistent with the feedback from some laboratories which have been less than satisfied with newly graduated recruits.”30 They continue to recommend that, “Measures should be taken to improve feedback from the laboratories to the schools to insure that the curriculum is not only comprehensive 25 See, e.g., Peterson et al., op. cit; L.W. Bradford. 1980. Barriers to quality achievement in crime laboratory operations. Journal of Forensic Sciences 25(4):902-907; Stoney, op. cit.; NIJ, op. cit. 26 Peterson et al., op. cit., p. 31. 27 See www.criminology.fsu.edu/COFSE/default.htm. 28 Stoney, op. cit. 29 NIJ, 2007, op. cit. 30 Peterson et al., op cit., p. 32.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward from an academic standpoint but also meets the practical requirements of operating laboratories.”31 Over the past few years, major strides have been taken in bringing a measure of standardization to forensic science education programs and boosting their quality. The NIJ report, Forensic Science: Review of Status and Needs, called in part for an accreditation system for such programs. Following this report, in 2001, NIJ established a Technical Working Group for Education and Training in Forensic Science (TWGED)—consisting of 47 experts, including educators, judges, attorneys, crime laboratory directors, and subject matter scientists—that developed recommended curricular guidelines for undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs. These were provided in a 2004 report.32 In 2002, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences created an ad hoc committee, the Forensic Education Program Accreditation Committee, to look into issues regarding an accreditation system. The committee was made a standing committee in 2004, at which time the name was changed to the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). FEPAC is made up of five forensic science educators, five crime laboratory directors, and one public member. FEPAC created a process for accrediting undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs using the TWGED standards.33 FEPAC standards are divided into three parts (see Table 8-2). There are general standards that all programs must meet and then additional standards for undergraduate and graduate programs. An important note regarding the accreditation process is that the program must award at least a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science or a natural science with a concentration in forensic science at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Programs that award certificates or associate degrees are ineligible for accreditation in this system. Additionally, at this time only U.S. programs are eligible for accreditation. To summarize the general standards, such programs shall: have an explicit process for evaluating and monitoring its overall efforts to fulfill its mission, goals, and objectives; for assessing its effectiveness in serving its various constituencies; for modifying 31 Programs accredited by FEPAC are required to complete periodic self-assessments, which include job placement statistics and employer satisfaction surveys. 32 Technical Working Group for Education and Training in Forensic Science. 2004. Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutions and Students, Special Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. NCJ 203099. 33 See FEPAC Accreditation Standards. Available at www.aafs.org/pdf/FEPAC%20Accreditation%20Standards%20_082307_.pdf.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward TABLE 8-2 Major Areas of FEPAC Standards General Standards for All Programs Eligibility Planning and Evaluation Institutional Support Student Support Services Recruiting and Admissions Practices, Academic Calendars, Catalogs, Publications, Grading, and Advertising Record of Student Complaints Distance Learning and Other Alternative Delivery Mechanisms Undergraduate Program Standards Mission, Goals, and Objectives Undergraduate Admissions Requirements Curriculum Program Director Faculty Success with Respect to Student Achievement Professional Involvement Graduate Program Standards Mission, Goals, and Objectives Graduate Admissions Requirements Curriculum Program Director Faculty Success with Respect to Student Achievement Professional Involvement SOURCE: www.aafs.org. the curriculum as necessary, based on the results of its evaluation activities; and for planning to achieve its mission in the future; have adequate institutional support in the form of financial resources, facilities, instructional, and support services; provide adequate student support services, such as mentoring, advising, and career placement; have policies and procedures for student recruitment and admissions, with advisers to students regarding requirements for employment; have procedures for handling student complaints; and consider the use of distance learning as an instructional technique, demonstrating that all required laboratory experiences are hands-on for all students.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Concerning the undergraduate curriculum, it should, at a minimum, ensure that each student (1) obtain a thorough grounding in the natural sciences; (2) build upon this background by taking a series of more advanced science classes; and (3) develop an appreciation of issues specific to forensic science through course work and laboratory-based instruction. Forensic science undergraduates in the chemistry track should take, at a minimum, chemistry courses required for chemistry majors—general chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and biochemistry. Forensic science students in the biology track should take those chemistry courses required for biology majors and biology courses for biology majors, including general biology, biochemistry, instrumental analysis, genetics, molecular biology, and population genetics. All forensic science students should, at the earliest point possible, take a hands-on crime scene investigation course that teaches the principles of evidence, including its collection, preservation, and value. Additionally, the forensic science courses in drug analysis, criminalistics, and forensic biology (including DNA analysis) should be at the highest level. All forensic science majors should take a capstone course. For graduate programs, the curriculum should, at a minimum, ensure that each student (1) understand essential issues in the forensic science disciplines, including the reduction of error rates; (2) develop an understanding of the areas of knowledge that are essential to forensic science; (3) acquire skills and experience in the application of basic forensic science concepts and of specialty knowledge to problem solving; (4) be oriented in professional values, concepts and ethics; and (5) demonstrate integration of knowledge and skills through a capstone experience, such as a formal, objective tool (e.g., the American Board of Criminalistics Forensic Science Aptitude Test) or another comprehensive examination or a thesis and/or research project. Depending on the specialty track of interest, graduate students should take advanced courses in specialty areas of interest—drug analysis, toxicology, criminalistics, forensic biology, and forensic DNA analysis (including mtDNA sequencing, low copy number techniques, and SNPs). The criminalistics and forensic biology courses should be advanced beyond those seen at the undergraduate level. If the student has not had those lower-level courses, they should be taken first. Graduate students also should take a hands-on crime scene investigation class that covers investigation techniques and evidence association, including its examination, collection, and preservation. In addition, in-service work with a collaborating institution can provide significant practical training. Finally, the standards lay out a suggested curriculum for forensic science education programs. At the undergraduate level, coursework includes several classes in the natural sciences (with a focus on chemistry); special-
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward RESEARCH AS A COMPONENT OF FORENSIC SCIENCE EDUCATION PROGRAMS Student research and exposure to research is a critical component of an appropriate forensic science education.36 Research funding supports both faculty and graduate student research. Funding also supports the acquisition and maintenance of equipment and major research instrumentation and laboratory renovation.37 As noted in Chapter 2, the level of funding for forensic science research programs is seen by many observers as inadequate. Fisher notes that “labs are looking for more forensic scientists at the master’s and doctorate level. For universities to run graduate-level programs in the science, research dollars must be made available. However, the amounts of such R&D funds available to support forensic science at the National Institute of Justice are small and are all but non-existence [sic] from the National Science Foundation, and other funding sources.”38 Likewise, NIJ reported in 2004 that, “Currently, no sustainable source of State or Federal funding exists to support graduate education or research in forensic science. Nor should state and local governments fund research, as their funds have to support the service mission of the laboratories. The National Institute of Justice has traditionally provided virtually all federal research funding for forensic science, but additional funding from alternative sources is essential.”39 Many forensic degree programs are found at small colleges or universities with few graduate programs in science and where research resources are limited. The lack of research funding has discouraged universities in the United States from developing research-based forensic degree programs, which leads to limited opportunities to attract graduate students into such programs. Only a few universities offer Ph.D.-level education and research opportunities in forensic science, and these are chemistry or biology programs with a forensic science focus. Most graduate programs in forensic science are master’s programs, where financial support for graduate study is limited. In addition, the lack of research funds means that universities are unlikely to develop research programs in forensic science. This lack of funding discourages top scientists from exploring the many scientific issues in the forensic science disciplines. This has become a vicious cycle during 36 To receive accreditation by FEPAC, a graduate program must include a component in which each student completes an independent research project leading to a thesis or written report, presented orally in a public forum for evaluation. 37 NIJ, 2004, op. cit., p. 23. 38 B.A.J. Fisher. 2003. Field needs adequate funding, national forensic science commission. Forensic Focus. See http://forensicfocusmag.com/articles/3b1persp1.html. 39 NIJ, 2004, op. cit., p. 22.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward which the lack of funding keeps top scientists away and their unavailability discourages funding agencies from investing in forensic science research. Traditional funding agencies have never had a mission to support forensic science research. STATUS OF TRAINING Continuing education and in-service training in forensic science have been significant issues for many years. Funding programs initially were offered in the early 1970s through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. As forensic science grew, the needs for ongoing training and continuing education also grew. Several studies funded by NIJ have been undertaken since 1999—Forensic Sciences: Review of Status and Needs (1999); 40 Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutions, and Students (2004),41 developed by TWGED; and a report prepared by ASCLD for NIJ, published in May 2004, which has become known as the 180-day Study Report: Status and Needs of United States Crime Laboratories.42 The issues addressed in all of these reports are the same ones confronting this committee today, namely the need for continuing education and the ongoing training of working examiners in the various disciplines: Prior to conducting analysis on evidence, forensic scientists require both basic scientific education and discipline-specific training. To be in compliance with widely-accepted accreditation standards, scientists in each of the disciplines must have, at a minimum, a baccalaureate degree in a natural science, forensic science, or a closely-related field. Each examiner must also have successfully completed a competency test (usually after a training period) prior to assuming independent casework.43 After the initial training period, continuing training is necessary to maintain and update knowledge and skills in new technology, equipment, and methods. Accreditation and certification programs require some type of continuing education, and the various Scientific Working Groups (SWGs) recom- 40 National Institute of Justice. 1999. Forensic Sciences: Review of Status and Needs. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. 41 National Institute of Justice. 2004. Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutions, and Students. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. 42 American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. 2004. 180-day Study Report: Status and Needs of United States Crime Laboratories. Largo, FL: ASCLD. 43 Ibid., p. 12.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward mend such programs (see Chapter 7). Continuing professional development also is a means of expanding expertise and career advancement. Training Needs As described by ASCLD: When a new analyst or examiner is hired, usually a recent university graduate, that individual requires initial training to build competency. The length of the initial training provided to an analyst depends upon the laboratory specialty area the trainee will enter. For example, controlled substance analysts may require only six to twelve months of training. Those training in experience-based disciplines such as latent prints examinations, firearms and toolmarks analyses, and questioned documents examinations may require up to three years of training before being permitted to perform independent casework. During their training period, individuals in experience-based disciplines serve much like an apprentice to a senior examiner.44 NIJ describes a variety of training needs for forensic scientists in crime laboratories by position.45 For operational scientists, training is needed to stay up to date in theoretical and practical issues (such as applying methods and performing analyses). Everyone in a laboratory needs orientation in such topics as the criminal justice system, the legal system, ethics, professional organizations, the basic philosophy of forensic science, overview of disciplines of forensic science, quality control (e.g., good laboratory practice), effective expert testimony, and safety. First-line supervisors need training in quality assurance, case file review, and basic supervision skills; and managers need training in fiscal management, quality systems management, leadership, project management, human resource management, and customer service. Training can be done in-service or through short courses. The 1999 NIJ report identifies a number of examples of such courses. On-the-job training involves specific challenges; it is labor intensive and can be expensive.46 The costs of training include the salary of the trainee as well as the opportunity cost of the lost productivity of the trainer. Moreover, there are no uniform recommendations on the content of training in the forensic science disciplines. ASCLD has suggested some examples of efforts to make training more efficient, including conducting some training in conjunction with universities (essentially conducting training while forensic 44 ASCLD, op. cit., p. 15. 45 NIJ, 1999, op. cit. 46 Ibid.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward scientists are students and before they are full-time employees), and some laboratories have tried collaborating to train employees. Continuing Education Continuing education is critical for all personnel working in crime laboratories as well as for those in other forensic science disciplines, such as forensic pathologists or anthropologists. Some commonly used approaches to continuing education are instructor led, professional conferences/seminars, distributed learning, apprenticeship, residency, internship, teaching and presentations by trainee/employee, and independent learning.47 The greatest issue for continuing education is quality. TWGED has provided guidelines for training courses. First, there should be specific eligibility requirements. Specified minimum and experiential requirements should be consistent with recognized, peer-defined standards (e.g., SWGs, ASCLD/Laboratory Accreditation Board). Factors such as drug use, credit and criminal history, and personal references may affect career opportunities. Second, the structure of the training programs should include: learning objectives; instructor qualifications; student requirements; a detailed syllabus; performance goals; periodic assessments; and competency testing. Third, program content can include a mix of discipline-specific and core elements. Core elements are essential topics that lay the foundation for entry into professional practice, regardless of the specialty area. They include the following: Standards of conduct—includes professional ethics training. Safety—includes biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Policy—includes such administrative and laboratory policies as standard operating procedures, quality assurance, accreditation, and security. Legal—includes expert testimony, depositions, rules of evidence, criminal and civil law and procedures, and evidence authentication. Evidence handling—includes interdisciplinary issues; recognition, collection, and preservation of evidence; and chain of custody. Communication—includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication skills; report writing; exhibit and pretrial preparation; and trial presentation. Discipline-specific elements include such topics as the history of the discipline, relevant literature, methodologies and validation studies, instru- 47 NIJ, 2004, op. cit.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward mentation, statistics, knowledge of related fields, and testimony. Finally, individuals should be assessed through mechanisms such as oral examinations, written examinations, laboratory practicals and laboratory exercises, mock trials, and the assessment of technical performance by appropriate senior staff. EDUCATION IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM The forensic science community needs to educate those who use their services and therefore needs to understand the services and their terminology. Users of forensic science analyses include law enforcement officers, forensic pathologists, the bar, the judiciary, the general public, and policymakers. This section focuses on education for the legal community of judges, lawyers, and juries. In recent years, some judges have struggled to understand increasingly complex scientific evidence. Sophisticated epidemiology and toxicology studies often are introduced in mass tort litigation. Complex econometric models are common in antitrust cases. Disputes over sophisticated engineering principles often are at the core of patent litigation. Failure to consider such evidence in a thoughtful and thorough manner threatens the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Following the Daubert decision, the Federal Judicial Center published the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, and a second edition was issued in 2000 to “facilitate the process of identifying and narrowing issues concerning scientific evidence by outlining for judges the pivotal issues in the areas of science that are often subject to dispute.”48 In addition, the courts have responded to the growing complexity of evidence by developing science-based judicial education programs that explain scientific issues as they may arise in the context of litigation. However, these courses are not mandatory, there is no fixed routine of continuing education in legal practice with regard to science, and there are no good ways to measure the proficiency of judges who attend these programs. Pfefferli suggests that it is important to tailor education programs to the needs of judges: Forensic educational programs directed towards proficiency in evidence matter must meet the needs of judicial magistrates, which goes beyond a better understanding of the scientific principles and technical methods applied to criminal investigations to demonstrate the existence of a crime. These programs have to look at a variety of different kinds of forensic evidence and their interacting processes, giving special attention to individualization/identification process; evidential value and evaluation of 48 Federal Judicial Center. 2000. Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence. 2nd ed., p. vi.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward evidence; critical issues and quality assurance, and deterministic versus probabilistic opinions of experts.”49 Pfefferli further notes that different members of the judicial community should benefit from customized training. For example, prosecutors and defense attorneys might benefit from a focus on the interpretation of and requirements for evidence; and judges may benefit from information on evaluating the scientific rigor of expert testimony and the reliability of forensic evidence. At the end of the 1990s, NIJ noted that training for the judiciary was sporadic at the federal, state, and local levels and rare in general.50 Virginia is one state that provides annual seminars for the judiciary, and ASCLD formerly provided training to judges. Reliance on DNA technology for identification purposes in forensic science spurred the development of judicial education programs. As part of the President’s DNA Initiative, the Department of Justice developed a series of publications and online training programs designed for officers of the courts, including judges. The course, “Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court,” released in 2006, is designed “to educate criminal justice professionals and other practitioners about the science of DNA analysis and the legal issues regarding the use of DNA in the courtroom.”51 The 15 training modules in the course include: information on the biology of DNA; the history of forensic DNA analysis; how to understand a forensic DNA laboratory report; factors in postconviction DNA testing requests; information about forensic DNA databases; issues involved in presenting DNA evidence in the courtroom; information on the admissibility issues regarding the use of DNA evidence; and an extensive glossary with basic definitions relating to forensic DNA analysis. But other than this initiative, judicial education programs have not focused on the forensic science disciplines. 49 P.W. Pfefferli. 2003. Forensic Education & Training of Judges and Law Enforcement Magistrates. Presentation at the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law, 17th International Conference, The Hague. Available at www.isrcl.org/Papers/Pfefferli.pdf, p. 2. 50 NIJ, 1999, op. cit. 51 Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. 2006. Department of Justice Releases Interactive Training Tool on Principles of Forensic DNA. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/2006/NIJ06036.htm.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Another avenue for education would be courses taught by forensic science education programs, but geared to continuing education participants rather than full-time students. The University of Florida, for example, offers a distance learning, continuing education course for Florida lawyers that is certified by the Florida Bar Association and that covers a variety of forensic science topics. Professional organizations also have offered courses. For example, the National District Attorneys Association founded the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI) as a nonprofit research, technical assistance, and program development resource for prosecutors at all levels of government. In the past, APRI has offered training opportunities in forensic science, although its programs have decreased in recent years. The National College of District Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys also periodically offer courses in forensic science. A third option is for law schools to offer more courses in the forensic disciplines, statistics, or basic science methodology, or to provide credit for students wishing to take courses in those fields. Unfortunately, it might be too late to effectively train most lawyers and judges once they enter their professional fields. Training programs are beneficial in the short term, because they offer responsible jurists a way to learn what they need to know. For the long term, however, the best way to get lawyers and judges up to speed is for law schools to offer better courses in forensic science in their curricula. Juries and Scientific Evidence Despite common stereotypes about jury incompetence and runaway juries, research has demonstrated a consistency between jury and bench trial verdicts, regardless of the level of scientific complexity involved.52 Even in cases in which jurors express incomplete and flawed understandings of scientific and technical evidence, researchers have described jury results as generally justified.53 Moreover, it has been suggested that jurors’ errors in interpreting evidentiary information are often traceable in part to misleading presentations and instructions by attorneys and judges.54 However, juries have been described as least comfortable and compe- 52 V.P. Hans, D.H. Kaye, M.B. Dann, E.J. Farley, and S. Albertson. 2007. Science in the Jury Box: Jurors’ Views and Understanding of Mitochondrial DNA Evidence. Cornell Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-02. Available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1025582; T. Eisenberg, P.L. Hannaford-Agor, V.P. Hans, N.L. Mott, G.T. Munsterman, S.J. Schwab, and M.T. Wells. 2005. Judge-jury agreement in criminal cases: A partial replication of Kalven & Zeisel’s The American Jury. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 2:171-206. 53 Hans, op. cit. 54 Ibid.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward tent with regard to statistical evidence.55 Interestingly, juries are often hesitant to give as much credence as experts suggest to the statistics associated with DNA evidence.56 Juries frequently raise concerns about laboratory error and sample contamination, even when opposing counsel does not introduce such issues.57 Jurors’ use and comprehension of forensic evidence is not well studied. Better understanding is needed in this area, and recommendations are needed for programs or methods that will better prepare juries in appropriate, unbiased ways for trials in which scientific evidence is expected to play a large or pivotal role. However, several studies indicate that trial judges agree with jury verdicts in an overwhelming proportion of criminal cases.58 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION Despite major strides made in recent years in bringing a measure of standardization to forensic science education programs and boosting their quality, more information is required on the number of programs that are available and the depth and breadth of the course offerings. It appears that there are no formal and systematically applied standards or standardization requirements for forensic science education programs, making the quality and relevance of existing programs uncertain. Moreover, there are no requirements or incentives in place to ensure that forensic science education programs must be accredited in order to receive federal funds. Current funding is insufficient for developing graduate training programs that cut across organizational, programmatic, and disciplinary boundaries and that can attract students in the life and physical sciences to pursue graduate studies in multidisciplinary fields critical to forensic science. Similarly, too few funding sources exist for research conducted in association with forensic science graduate programs. In addition, forensic researchers, legal scholars, and forensic practitioners and members of the bench and bar do not have sufficient opportuni- 55 Ibid. See also W.C. Thompson and E.L. Schumann. 1987. Interpretation of statistical evidence in criminal trials: The prosecutor’s fallacy and the defense attorney’s fallacy. Law and Human Behavior 11:167-187; W.C. Thompson. 1989. Are juries competent to evaluate statistical evidence? Law and Contemporary Problems 52:9-41. 56 J.J. Koehler. 2001. When are people persuaded by DNA match statistics? Law and Human Behavior 25:493-513; D.A. Nance and S.B. Morris. 2002. An empirical assessment of presentation formats for trace evidence with a relatively large and quantifiable random match probability. Jurimetrics Journal 42:403-448; J. Schklar and S.S. Diamond. 1999. Juror Understanding of DNA evidence: An empirical assessment of presentation formats for trace evidence with a relatively small random-match probability. Journal of Legal Studies 34:395-444. 57 Schklar and Diamond, op. cit. 58 Hannaford-Agor, Hans, and Munsterman, op. cit.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward ties and venues for interaction and sharing information. This impedes the translation of advances in forensic science to legal scholars and litigators (including civil litigators, prosecutors, and criminal defense counsel), federal, state, and local legislators, members of the judiciary, and law enforcement officials. The result is needless delay in improvements in criminal and civil laws and procedures, law enforcement practices, litigation strategies, and judicial decisionmaking. Lawyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methods, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the strengths and vulnerabilities of forensic science evidence offered during trials. Forensic science examiners need additional training in the principles, practices, and contexts of scientific methodology, as well as in the distinctive features of their specialty. Training should move well beyond intern-like transmittal of practices to teaching that is based on scientifically valid principles. In addition to the practical experience and learning acquired during an internship, a trainee should acquire rigorous interdisciplinary education and training in the scientific areas that constitute the basis for the particular forensic discipline and should also receive instruction on how to document and report the analysis. A trainee in addition should have working knowledge of basic probability and statistics as they relate to the tasks he or she may need to address in the applicable discipline. To correct some of the existing deficiencies, it is crucially important to improve undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs. The legitimization of practices in the forensic science disciplines must be based on established scientific knowledge, principles, and practices, which are best learned through formal education. Apprenticeship has a secondary role; under no circumstances can it supplant the need for the scientific basis of education and of the practice of forensic science. In addition, lawyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methodology, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the degree of reliability of forensic science evidence that is offered in trial. Such training is essential, because any checklist for the admissibility of scientific or technical testimony (such as the Daubert standards) is imperfect. Conformance with items on a checklist can suggest that testimony is reliable, but it does not guarantee it. Better connections must be established and promoted among experts in forensic science and legal scholars and practitioners. The fruits of any advances in the forensic science disciplines should be transferred directly to legal scholars and practitioners (including civil litigators, prosecutors, and criminal defense counsel), federal, state, and local legislators, members of the judiciary, and law enforcement officials, so that appropriate adjustments can be made in criminal and civil laws and procedures, model jury
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward instructions, law enforcement practices, litigation strategies, and judicial decisionmaking. Law schools should enhance this connection by offering courses in forensic science, by offering credit for forensic science courses students take in other colleges, and by developing joint degree programs. Recommendation 10: To attract students in the physical and life sciences to pursue graduate studies in multidisciplinary fields critical to forensic science practice, Congress should authorize and appropriate funds to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to work with appropriate organizations and educational institutions to improve and develop graduate education programs designed to cut across organizational, programmatic, and disciplinary boundaries. To make these programs appealing to potential students, they must include attractive scholarship and fellowship offerings. Emphasis should be placed on developing and improving research methods and methodologies applicable to forensic science practice and on funding research programs to attract research universities and students in fields relevant to forensic science. NIFS should also support law school administrators and judicial education organizations in establishing continuing legal education programs for law students, practitioners, and judges.
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