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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
standards from the beginning,62 because scientific groundwork for DNA analysis had been laid outside the context of law enforcement. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other respected institutions funded and conducted extensive basic research, followed by applied research. Serious studies on DNA analysis preceded the establishment and implementation of “individualization” criteria and parameters for assessing the probative value of claims of individualization. This history stands in sharp contrast to the history of research involving most other forensic science disciplines, which have not benefitted from extensive basic research, clinical applications, federal oversight, vast financial support from the private sector for applied research, and national standards for quality assurance and quality control. The goal is not to hold other disciplines to DNA’s high standards in all respects; after all, it is unlikely that most other current forensic methods will ever produce evidence as discriminating as DNA. However, using Daubert as a guide, the least that the courts should insist upon from any forensic discipline is certainty that practitioners in the field adhere to enforceable standards, ensuring that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.
Judicial Dispositions of Questions Relating to Drug Identification
Over the years, there have been countless instances in which trial judges have assessed the admissibility of expert testimony relating to drug analyses, either sua sponte or pursuant to objections raised by defense counsel. Because trial court decisions in these matters often are resolved without published written opinions and with no challenges on appeal, there is no sure way to know how often trial judges deny the admissibility of the evidence. Trial judges may sometimes sustain challenges to the admissibility of expert testimony, especially in instances where the defense can show defects in the foundational laboratory reports.63 But there are very few such reported cases.
In addition to alleged defects in laboratory reports and sampling procedures, trial courts routinely consider whether experts possess the necessary qualifications to testify and, more generally, whether expert testimony is sufficiently reliable to be admitted under Daubert and Federal Rule of Evidence 702. However, in published opinions addressing expert testimony based on drug identification, federal appellate courts rarely reverse trial
See supra text accompanying note 54; see also Gov’t of V.I. v. Byers, 941 F. Supp. 513 (D.V.I. 1996); United States v. Jakobetz, 747 F. Supp. 250 (D. Vt. 1990), aff’d, 955 F.2d 786 (2d Cir. 1992).
See, e.g., United States v. Diaz, 2006 WL 3512032 (N.D. Cal. 2006).