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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
should reduce the occurrence of wrongful convictions, which reduces the risk that true offenders continue to commit crimes while innocent persons inappropriately serve time. Third, any improvements in the forensic science disciplines will undoubtedly enhance the Nation’s ability to address the needs of homeland security.
Numerous professionals in the forensic science community and the medical examiner system have worked for years to achieve excellence in their fields, aiming to follow high ethical norms, develop sound professional standards, ensure accurate results in their practices, and improve the processes by which accuracy is determined. Although the work of these dedicated professionals has resulted in significant progress in the forensic science disciplines in recent decades, major challenges still face the forensic science community. It is therefore unsurprising that Congress instructed this committee to, among other things, “assess the present and future resource needs of the forensic science community,” “make recommendations for maximizing the use of forensic technologies and techniques,” “make recommendations for programs that will increase the number of qualified forensic scientists and medical examiners,” and “disseminate best practices and guidelines concerning the collection and analysis of forensic evidence to help ensure quality and consistency in the use of forensic technologies and techniques.” These are among the pressing issues facing the forensic science community. The best professionals in the forensic science disciplines invariably are hindered in their work because these and other problems persist.
The length of the congressional charge and the complexity of the material under review made the committee’s assignment challenging. In undertaking it, the committee first had to gain an understanding of the various disciplines within the forensic science community, as well as the community’s history, its strengths and weaknesses, and the roles of the people and agencies that constitute the community and make use of its services. In so doing, the committee was able to better comprehend some of the major problems facing the forensic science community and the medical examiner system. A brief review of some of these problems is illuminating.5
Disparities in the Forensic Science Community
There are great disparities among existing forensic science operations in federal, state, and local law enforcement jurisdictions and agencies. This is true with respect to funding, access to analytical instrumentation, the availability of skilled and well-trained personnel, certification, accreditation, and
In this report, the “forensic science community,” broadly speaking, is meant to include forensic pathology and medicolegal death investigation, which is sometimes referred to as “the medical examiner system” or “the medicolegal death investigation system.”