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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
Control mechanisms traditionally have been held through employment and job function.14
Of the laboratories surveyed by the State University of New York at Albany, only 21 percent reported having a sufficient number of FTEs to complete their workload. The authors concluded that “as total number of cases increases, scientists do not have proper equipment, enough time, adequate resources, enough information from the DA [district attorney], enough time to prepare for courtroom testimony, and the needed resources to provide courtroom testimony.”15 In addition, “as casework capacity increases, pressure to complete cases too quickly increases significantly, and pressure to extend opinions beyond the scientific method and pressure to get a particular result also increases significantly.”16
The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) also reports acute personnel shortages in the death investigation system, with a critical need for significantly more board-certified forensic pathologists than are currently available. (See Chapter 9 for a discussion of the medicolegal death investigation system.)
According to the 2002 BJS data, almost all public crime laboratories examine controlled substances (90 percent). Sixty-three percent examine firearms and toolmarks, 65 percent screen biological samples (usually in preparation for DNA analysis on selected exhibits), and 61 percent examine latent prints.17 Fifty-nine percent of laboratories examine one or more forms of trace evidence (e.g., hairs, fibers, glass, or paint). Fewer laboratories examine questioned documents (26 percent) or conduct computer crime investigations (11 percent). As would be expected, larger laboratories are able to perform a broader range of examinations.
In terms of crime scene investigation, 62 percent of laboratories report having sent examiners directly to crime scenes, although most forensic examiners did not visit crime scenes. Twenty-five percent of the laboratories reported that laboratory personnel also served as crime scene investigators. However, more than half of laboratories (62 percent) reported that agencies or persons not affiliated with the laboratory handled most major investigations—usually a police unit with specialized evidence technicians
D.S. Stoney. Chief Scientist, Stoney Forensic, Inc. Presentation to the committee. January 26, 2007.