vigorously supports the adoption of the core ideas and principles embedded in each of the following recommendations.

Standardized Terminology and Reporting

The terminology used in reporting and testifying about the results of forensic science investigations must be standardized. Many terms are used by forensic scientists in scientific reports and in court testimony that describe findings, conclusions, and degrees of association between evidentiary material (e.g., hairs, fingerprints, fibers) and particular people or objects. Such terms include, but are not limited to “match,” “consistent with,” “identical,” “similar in all respects tested,” and “cannot be excluded as the source of.” The use of such terms can and does have a profound effect on how the trier of fact in a criminal or civil matter perceives and evaluates scientific evidence. Although some forensic science disciplines have proposed reporting vocabulary and scales, the use of the recommended language is not standard practice among forensic science practitioners.

As a general matter, laboratory reports generated as the result of a scientific analysis should be complete and thorough. They should contain, at minimum, “methods and materials,” “procedures,” “results,” “conclusions,” and, as appropriate, sources and magnitudes of uncertainty in the procedures and conclusions (e.g., levels of confidence). Some forensic science laboratory reports meet this standard of reporting, but many do not. Some reports contain only identifying and agency information, a brief description of the evidence being submitted, a brief description of the types of analysis requested, and a short statement of the results (e.g., “the greenish, brown plant material in item #1 was identified as marijuana”), and they include no mention of methods or any discussion of measurement uncertainties.

Many clinical and testing disciplines outside the forensic science disciplines have standards, templates, and protocols for data reporting. A good example is the ISO/IEC 17025 standard (commonly called “ISO 17025”). ISO 17025 is an international standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations. These requirements have been used by accrediting agencies to determine what a laboratory must do to secure accreditation. In addition, some SWGs in the forensic disciplines have scoring systems for reporting findings, but these systems are neither uniformly nor consistently used. In other words, although appropriate standards exist, they are not always followed. Forensic reports, and any courtroom testimony stemming from them, must include clear characterizations of the limitations of the analyses, including measures

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement