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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
fore, any study of forensic science necessarily must include an assessment of the legal system that it serves. As already noted, and as further amplified in Chapters 4 and 5, the forensic science system exhibits serious shortcomings in capacity and quality; yet the courts continue to rely on forensic evidence without fully understanding and addressing the limitations of different forensic science disciplines.
The conjunction between the law and forensic science is explored in detail in Chapter 3. The bottom line is simple: In a number of forensic science disciplines, forensic science professionals have yet to establish either the validity of their approach or the accuracy of their conclusions, and the courts have been utterly ineffective in addressing this problem. For a variety of reasons—including the rules governing the admissibility of forensic evidence, the applicable standards governing appellate review of trial court decisions, the limitations of the adversary process, and the common lack of scientific expertise among judges and lawyers who must try to comprehend and evaluate forensic evidence—the legal system is ill-equipped to correct the problems of the forensic science community. In short, judicial review, by itself, is not the answer. Rather, tremendous resources must be devoted to improving the forensic science community. With more and better educational programs, accredited laboratories, certification of forensic practitioners, sound operational principles and procedures, and serious research to establish the limits and measures of performance in each discipline, forensic science experts will be better able to analyze evidence and coherently report their findings in the courts. This is particularly important in criminal cases in which we seek to protect society from persons who have committed criminal acts and to protect innocent persons from being convicted of crimes that they did not commit.
ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT
This report begins with a series of chapters describing the current forensic science system, the use of forensic science evidence in litigation, and science and the forensic science disciplines. It then addresses systemic areas for improvement with the goal of attaining a more rigorous and robust forensic science infrastructure, including standards and best practices, education, and training. Pursuant to its charge, in three chapters the committee addresses special issues in the areas of medicolegal death investigation (Chapter 9), AFIS (Chapter 10), and the interrelationships between homeland security and the forensic science disciplines (Chapter 11).