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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
for their enforcement, with sanctions imposed against those who fail to comply. As such, standards should be developed with a consideration of the relevant measures that will be used to provide a meaningful evaluation of an organization’s or individual’s level of compliance. Appropriate standards must be coupled with effective systems of accreditation and/or certification that include strong enforcement mechanisms and sanctions.
Individual laboratories undergoing accreditation develop their own laboratory protocols. Whether these protocols adhere to the SWG standards depends on the individual examiners in the discipline in the laboratory in question. Accrediting bodies require that the methods meet a level of acceptable practice. Currently, most of these practices are slight variations of the SWG guidelines, with adjustments to accommodate differences in equipment.
Although many forensic science disciplines have engaged in proficiency testing for the past several decades, several courts have noted that proficiency testing in some disciplines is not sufficiently rigorous.27 ASCLD/LAB’s Web site states that “Proficiency testing is an integral part of an effective quality assurance program. It is one of many measures used by laboratories to monitor performance and to identify areas where improvement may be needed. A proficiency testing program is a reliable method of verifying that the laboratory’s technical procedures are valid and that the quality of work is being maintained.”28 Similarly, ISO/IEC 17025 policies state:
Proficiency testing is one of the important tools used by laboratories and Accreditation Bodies for monitoring test and calibration results and for verifying the effectiveness of the accreditation process. As such, it is an important element in establishing confidence in the competence of Signatories and their accredited laboratories covered by this Arrangement.29
See United States v. Crisp, 324 F.3d 261, 274 (4th Cir. 2003); United States v. Llera Plaza, 188 F. Supp. 2d 549, 565, 558 (E.D. Pa. 2002); United States v. Lewis, 220 F. Supp. 2d 548, 554 (S.D. W.Va. 2002).
See www.ascld-lab.org/legacy/pdf/aslabinternproficiencyreviewprogram.pdf. It is worth noting that several studies have assessed or published crime laboratory proficiency testing results, which generally reveal the need for improvement; J.L. Peterson, E.L. Fabricant, K.S. Field, and J.I. Thornton. 1978. Crime Laboratory Proficiency Testing Research Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; J.L. Peterson and P. Markham. 1995. Crime laboratory proficiency testing results, 1978-1991, I: Identification and classification of physical evidence. Journal of Forensic Sciences 40(6):994-1008; J.L. Peterson and P. Markham, 1995. Crime laboratory proficiency testing results, 1978-1991, II: Resolving questions of common origin. Journal of Forensic Sciences 40(6):1009-1029.