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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-
V.P. Hans, D.H. Kaye, M.B. Dann, E.J. Farley, and S. Albertson. 2007. Science in the JuryBox: 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.