Wednesday, February 18, 2009

National Academy of Sciences Urges Comprehensive Reform of U.S. Forensic Sciences

National Academy of Sciences Urges Comprehensive Reform of U.S. Forensic Sciences

This afternoon, the National Academy of Sciences released a groundbreaking report that could transform forensic science nationwide.

The report says the nation’s forensic science system lacks rigorous certification programs for forensic scientists, strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on forensic evidence, solid research establishing the scientific bases and reliability of many forensic methods, and resources and oversight for crime labs. The National Academy of Sciences calls these serious deficiencies that require an overhaul of the nation’s forensic science system.

The report calls on the federal government to create a National Institute of Forensic Science to strengthen the oversight, research and support of forensic science. The safeguards recommended in the report would improve public safety and prevent wrongful convictions by allowing forensics to play a more reliable role in identifying perpetrators of crime and protecting the wrongly accused.

Visit our website for reactions on today’s announcement from exonerees, forensic experts and lawmakers.

Visit the National Academy of Sciences website for the Executive Summary of the report and other background.

Today’s report was years in the making. Congress saw that the forensic science field needed serious, substantial improvements and directed the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a full study and issue today’s report. Some of the nation’s leading scientists and legal authorities studied forensic issues and held public hearings with experts in the field over the last two years. Innocence Project Co-Founder Peter Neufeld testified twice before the panel and the Innocence Project provided the group with data on the lessons learned from DNA exonerations. The Innocence Project will work in the weeks and months ahead to help Congress implement the report’s recommendations, and we will be calling on you to help pass these critical reforms.

“This unprecedented report shows that many forensic techniques which are relied on in courtrooms every day lack scientific support. This report is a major breakthrough toward ensuring that so-called scientific evidence in criminal cases is solid, validated and reliable,” Neufeld said. “For too long, forensic science professionals have not had the support or management needed to identify the real strengths and weaknesses of different assays and techniques. This report provides the roadmap for rectifying that problem.”

Starting in the late 1980s, DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent nationwide. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, fingerprint analysis, firearms, tool marks and shoe print analysis have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Since experts agree that only 5-10% of a crime lab’s work involves DNA testing and that they overwhelmingly rely on other forensic disciplines, it is all the more imperative that these other disciplines be subjected to rigorous evaluation to ensure their reliability.

The Innocence Project — Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law 100 Fifth Ave. 3rd Floor - New York, NY 10011

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