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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