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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
the use of forensic evidence in criminal and civil litigation—
the collection and flow of evidence from crime scenes to courtrooms
the manner in which forensic practitioners testify in court
cases involving the misinterpretation of forensic evidence
the adversarial system in criminal and civil litigation
lawyers’ use and misuse of forensic evidence
judges’ handling of forensic evidence;
forensic practice and projects at various federal agencies, including NIST, the FBI, DHS, U.S. Secret Service, NIJ, DEA, and DOD;
forensic practice in state and local agencies;
nontraditional forensic service providers; and
the forensic science community in the United Kingdom.
The testimonial and documentary evidence considered by the committee was detailed, complex, and sometimes controversial. Given this reality, the committee could not possibly answer every question that it confronted, nor could it devise specific solutions for every problem that it identified. Rather, it reached a consensus on the most important issues now facing the forensic science community and medical examiner system and agreed on 13 specific recommendations to address these issues.
Challenges Facing the Forensic Science Community
For decades, the forensic science disciplines have produced valuable evidence that has contributed to the successful prosecution and conviction of criminals as well as to the exoneration of innocent people. Over the last two decades, advances in some forensic science disciplines, especially the use of DNA technology, have demonstrated that some areas of forensic science have great additional potential to help law enforcement identify criminals. Many crimes that may have gone unsolved are now being solved because forensic science is helping to identify the perpetrators.
Those advances, however, also have revealed that, in some cases, substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people. This fact has demonstrated the potential danger of giving undue weight to evidence and testimony derived from imperfect testing and analysis. Moreover, imprecise or exaggerated expert testimony has sometimes contributed to the admission of erroneous or misleading evidence.
Further advances in the forensic science disciplines will serve three important purposes. First, further improvements will assist law enforcement officials in the course of their investigations to identify perpetrators with higher reliability. Second, further improvements in forensic science practices