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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward 2 The Forensic Science Community and the Need for Integrated Governance Forensic investigations involve intelligence and information gathering, crime scene investigation, laboratory analysis, interpretation of tests and results, and reporting and communication with members of law enforcement and the judicial system. Law enforcement agencies within the United States vary in organizational structure regarding how forensic science examinations are conducted and evidence is admitted into court (see Chapter 3). Variations are attributable to the geographical size and population served by the jurisdictional authority, the types and level of crimes encountered, the funding source, and local tradition. In general, however, the forensic science community includes crime scene investigators; state and local crime laboratories; medical examiners; private forensic laboratories; law enforcement identification units; resources such as registries and databases; professional organizations; prosecutors and defense attorneys; quality system providers (i.e., accrediting and certifying organizations); and federal agencies that conduct or support research as well as provide forensic science services and training. This chapter provides an overview of the major components of the forensic science community. Data about laboratories are based largely on two surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2002 and 2005 of publicly funded crime laboratories1 and a more 1 J.L. Peterson and M.J. Hickman. 2005. Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2002. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cpffcl02.pdf; M.R. Durose. 2008. Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cpffcl05.pdf.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward recent survey of “nontraditional forensic service providers” conducted by researchers at West Virginia University.2 In addition to forensic laboratories, about 3,200 medical examiner and coroner offices provided death investigation services across the United States in 2004.3 These entities—which may comprise a coroner system, a medical examiner system, or a mixed system at the county or state level—conduct death scene investigations, perform autopsies, and determine the cause and manner of death when a person has died as a result of violence, under suspicious circumstances, without a physician in attendance, or in other circumstances. These offices are described in greater detail in Chapter 9. In addition, standard setting, accrediting, and certifying organizations are described in greater detail in Chapter 7, and education and training programs are described in Chapter 8. The committee’s first recommendation, appearing at the end of this chapter, calls for a more central, strategic, and integrated approach to forensic science at the national level. CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION Evidence recovery and interpretation at the crime scene is the essential first step in forensic investigations. Several organizational approaches to crime scene investigation and subsequent forensic laboratory activity exist, sometimes involving a large number of personnel with varied educational backgrounds. Conversely, in some jurisdictions, a single forensic examiner might also be the same investigator who goes to the crime scene, collects evidence, processes the evidence, conducts the analyses, interprets the evidence, and testifies in court. In other jurisdictions, the investigators submit the evidence to a laboratory where scientists conduct the analyses and prepare the reports. Crime scene evidence collectors can include uniformed officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, criminalists, forensic scientists, coroners, medical examiners, hospital personnel, photographers, and arson investigators.4 Thus, the nature and process of crime scene investiga- 2 T.S. Witt, Director, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, West Virginia University. “Survey of Non-Traditional Forensic Service Providers.” Presentation to the committee. December 6, 2007. 3 R. Hanzlick, Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Center and Emory University School of Medicine. 2007. “An Overview of Medical Examiner/Coroner Systems in the United States—Development, Current Status, Issues, and Needs.” Presentation to the committee. June 5, 2007. The Bureau of Justice (2004) omits Louisiana and classifies Texas as a medical examiner state, and accordingly reports the total as 1,998. According to Hanzlick, many of Texas’s 254 counties maintain justice of the peace/coroners offices. The total number includes Justices of the Peace in Texas. 4 B. Fisher, Director, Scientific Services Bureau, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Presentation to the committee. April 24, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward tion varies dramatically across jurisdictions, with the potential for inconsistent policies and procedures and bias. Some analysts say that the lack of standards and oversight can result in deliberate deception of suspects, witnesses, and the courts; fraud; and “honest mistakes” made because of haste, inexperience, or lack of a scientific background.5 In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court held for the first time in Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York6 that a municipality can be held directly liable for violating a person’s constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. Partly in response to this liability, most large cities and metropolitan areas created their own professionally trained crime scene units. However, in smaller suburban and rural communities, evidence from a crime scene may be collected and preserved by a patrol officer or investigator. Even in large metropolitan areas, most crime scene investigation units are composed of sworn officers. Recognizing that some agencies did not have the resources to adequately train all personnel in crime scene processing, in 2000 the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and its Technical Working Group on Crime Scene Investigation (TWGCSI) developed Crime Scene Investigation: A Guide for Law Enforcement, which stated that “successful implementation of this guide can be realized only if staff possess basic (and in some cases advanced) training in the fundamentals of investigating a crime scene.”7 However, there remains great variability in crime scene investigation practices, along with persistent concerns that the lack of standards and proper training at the crime scene can contribute to the difficulties of drawing accurate conclusions once evidence is subjected to forensic laboratory methods. (See Chapter 5 for a discussion of methodologies and Chapter 7 for further discussion of standards and ethics.) FORENSIC SCIENCE LABORATORIES AND SERVICE PROVIDERS The configuration of forensic laboratories varies by jurisdiction. Some are located within a state police department as part of a statewide system of laboratories and training programs. For example, in Illinois, state law mandates that the laboratory system provide forensic services to law enforcement agencies in all 102 counties (population 12.7 million). Although the forensic laboratory system is part of the Illinois State Police, 98 percent 5 See J.I. Thornton. 2006. Crime reconstruction—ethos and ethics. In: W.J. Chisum and B.E. Turvey (eds.). Crime Reconstruction. Boston: Elsevier Science, pp. 37-50. 6 436 U.S. 658 (1978). 7 Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/178280.pdf, p. 2.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward of the casework completed is for the 1,200 local and county police agencies across the state.8 Not all forensic services are performed in traditional crime laboratories—they may be conducted by a sworn law enforcement officer with no scientific training (e.g., some latent print examiners). Thus, forensic service providers may be located in law enforcement agencies, may be crime scene investigators, or may be a for-profit entity. There are no good data on the entire universe of forensic science entities, although there have been efforts to gather data on publicly funded crime laboratories and nonlaboratory-based providers. The committee could find no data regarding for-profit forensic science service providers, except for DNA laboratories, of which there are approximately 30 in the United States. Publicly Funded Laboratories BJS has conducted two censuses of publicly funded forensic crime laboratories. The first census, administered in 2002, established baseline information on the operations and workload of the Nation’s public crime laboratories.9 The 2005 census documented changes in workload and backlog that have occurred since the 2002 census. According to the 2005 census, 389 publicly funded forensic crime laboratories were operating in the United States in 2005—210 state or regional laboratories, 84 county laboratories, 62 municipal laboratories, and 33 federal laboratories. The estimated budget for all 389 crime laboratories exceeded $1 billion, nearly half of which funded state laboratories. The BJS report cites a total of nearly 2.7 million new cases10 in 2005, including a much larger number of separate requests for forensic services. Some laboratories are full-service facilities; others might conduct only the more common analyses of evidence (see Chapter 5). Funding Sources According to the 2005 BJS census, in addition to federal, state, or local support, 28 percent of publicly funded laboratories charged fees for service, and 65 percent reported receiving some funding from grants. However, funding for laboratories has not increased with increasing demands. Some 8 J. Johnson, Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center at Chicago. Presentation to the committee. January 25, 2007. 9 Peterson and Hickman, op. cit. 10 Durose, op. cit. “A ‘case’ is defined as all physical evidence submitted from a single criminal investigation submitted for crime laboratory analysis,” p. 9.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward laboratory directors appearing before the committee cited budget cuts as high as 22 percent over the past five years.11 Personnel and Equipment The 2005 BJS census estimated that publicly funded crime laboratories employed more than 11,900 full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel in 2005. Most crime laboratories are relatively small: the median staff size in 2005 was 16. Distinctly different professional tracks exist within forensic laboratories, ranging from laboratory technicians and general examiners to scientists. According to the census data, analysts or examiners—persons who typically prepare evidence, conduct tests, interpret results, sign laboratory reports, and testify in court—comprised 58 percent of all crime laboratory FTEs in 2005. Technical support personnel, who typically assist analysts or examiners in preparing evidence and conducting tests, accounted for 10 percent of all FTEs. Thirteen percent of FTEs were managerial personnel, 8 percent were in clerical positions, and 6 percent were crime scene technicians. Similar ranges in the distribution of personnel are evident among lab-oratories by type of jurisdiction served. (The uncertainties in these reported percentages depend on the number of laboratories that responded to the FTE survey questions.) A 2006 NIJ report cited equipment shortages (which may include insufficient equipment maintenance) as a limiting factor in processing cases.12 It cited equipment needs at the 50 largest laboratories in the disciplines of controlled substances, trace evidence, firearms, questioned documents, latent prints, toxicology, and arson. Evidence submission may or may not be automated, depending on the laboratory. Lack of automation increases the time the laboratory spends on logging in evidence. A 2005 survey of public crime laboratories conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany found that the number of FTEs in a laboratory ranged from 2 to 280, with an average of 34, the majority of whom have bachelor’s degrees.13 Because of the distinctly different professional tracks within larger laboratories, for example, technicians perform tests with defined protocols, and credentialed scientists conduct specialized testing and interpretation. Unlike many other professions, the forensic science disciplines have no organized control over entry into the profession, such as by degree, boards or exams, or licensure (see Chapter 7). 11 Johnson, op. cit. 12 NIJ. 2006. Status and Needs of Forensic Science Service Providers: A Report to Congress. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/213420.htm. 13 W.S. Becker, W.M. Dale, A. Lambert, and D. Magnus. 2005. Letter to the editor—Forensic lab directors’ perceptions of staffing issues. Journal of Forensic Sciences 50(5):1255-1257.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Control mechanisms traditionally have been held through employment and job function.14 Of the laboratories surveyed by the State University of New York at Albany, only 21 percent reported having a sufficient number of FTEs to complete their workload. The authors concluded that “as total number of cases increases, scientists do not have proper equipment, enough time, adequate resources, enough information from the DA [district attorney], enough time to prepare for courtroom testimony, and the needed resources to provide courtroom testimony.”15 In addition, “as casework capacity increases, pressure to complete cases too quickly increases significantly, and pressure to extend opinions beyond the scientific method and pressure to get a particular result also increases significantly.”16 The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) also reports acute personnel shortages in the death investigation system, with a critical need for significantly more board-certified forensic pathologists than are currently available. (See Chapter 9 for a discussion of the medicolegal death investigation system.) Laboratory Functions According to the 2002 BJS data, almost all public crime laboratories examine controlled substances (90 percent). Sixty-three percent examine firearms and toolmarks, 65 percent screen biological samples (usually in preparation for DNA analysis on selected exhibits), and 61 percent examine latent prints.17 Fifty-nine percent of laboratories examine one or more forms of trace evidence (e.g., hairs, fibers, glass, or paint). Fewer laboratories examine questioned documents (26 percent) or conduct computer crime investigations (11 percent). As would be expected, larger laboratories are able to perform a broader range of examinations. In terms of crime scene investigation, 62 percent of laboratories report having sent examiners directly to crime scenes, although most forensic examiners did not visit crime scenes. Twenty-five percent of the laboratories reported that laboratory personnel also served as crime scene investigators. However, more than half of laboratories (62 percent) reported that agencies or persons not affiliated with the laboratory handled most major investigations—usually a police unit with specialized evidence technicians 14 D.S. Stoney. Chief Scientist, Stoney Forensic, Inc. Presentation to the committee. January 26, 2007. 15 Becker, et al., op. cit., p. 1255. 16 Ibid., p. 1256. 17 Peterson and Hickman, op. cit.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward or crime scene search officers who go onsite to take photographs and locate, preserve, label, and gather physical evidence. CASE BACKLOGS According to the 2005 BJS data, the Nation’s 389 crime laboratories received an estimated 2.7 million new cases during 2005. Almost half were submitted to state laboratories. Laboratories serving local jurisdictions received about 1.3 million cases in 2005, including 727,000 cases received by county laboratories and 566,000 by municipal laboratories. An estimated 359,000 cases were backlogged (not completed within 30 days) at the end of 2005, compared to 287,000 at yearend 2002. This represents a 24 percent increase in backlogged cases between 2002 and 2005. State laboratories accounted for more than half of the backlog in both years. Among the 288 laboratories that reported this information, the median number of cases received in 2005 was about 4,100. Overall, laboratories ended the year with a median backlog of about 400 cases. Six percent of laboratories that received cases in 2005 reported having no backlog at yearend.18 In 2005, federal laboratories received the fewest cases. Fifty-one percent of the laboratories reported outsourcing one or more types of forensic services to private laboratories in 2005, primarily DNA casework, toxicology, Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) samples, and controlled substances. In a communication with the committee, Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department Crime Laboratory Director Barry Fisher warned that to manage backlogs, laboratories triage cases: Murders, rapes, aggravated assaults and the like have priority, as do cases going to court, cases where a suspect is being held on an arrest warrant, highly publicized cases, etc. Property crimes, such as burglaries, are often far down the list. This makes the likelihood of examining evidence from property crime cases unlikely. Oddly, the police and prosecutors are rarely consulted about how priorities are determined. The use of triage is the lab’s best effort to manage its own scarce resources. Another factor at play in case management is that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This means that a persistent investigator who calls the lab often enough will get his case done more quickly than the investigator who just sends the case down to the lab expecting that it will be done.19 18 Ibid., pp. 3, 4. The committee notes that the 30-day turnaround metric is an arbitrary metric useful for comparative purposes only. 19 Letter to the committee from B.A.J. Fisher. June 12, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Fisher also cautioned that backlog data are not entirely reliable, saying that one of the reasons for the lack of data is that laboratories count back-logs, case submissions, tests, output, and outcomes differently. Additionally, many laboratories lack automated information management systems to “capture the very data that might support their case for more assistance.”20 Finally, it is difficult to track cases for which forensic work has moved all the way through the criminal justice system: Police, prosecutors, and forensic laboratories use different tracking systems. NIJ’S COVERDELL FORENSIC SCIENCE IMPROVEMENT GRANT PROGRAM Through the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Act (P.L. 106-561), the Justice Department operates the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program (the Coverdell program), which awards grants to states and units of local government to help improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science and medical examiner services.21 The program provides funding for expenses related to facilities, personnel, equipment, computerization, supplies, accreditation, certification, and education and training. In 2004, the Justice for All Act (P.L. 108-405) expanded the Coverdell program, with the aim of reducing the backlog. A state or unit of local government that receives a Coverdell grant must use the grant for one or more of three purposes: To carry out all or a substantial part of a program intended to improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner services in the state, including those services provided by laboratories operated by the state and those operated by units of local government within the state. To eliminate a backlog in the analysis of forensic science evidence, including, among other things, a backlog with respect to firearms examination, latent prints, toxicology, controlled substances, forensic pathology, questioned documents, and trace evidence. To train, assist, and employ forensic laboratory personnel as needed to eliminate such a backlog.22 20 Ibid. 21 P.L. 106-561 (December 21, 2000). An Act to improve the quality, timeliness, and credibility of forensic science services for criminal justice purposes and for other purposes. Cited as the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Sciences Improvement Act. 22 See www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/forensics/nfsia/welcome.htm.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward The expectation for those receiving grants is “demonstrated improvement over current operations in the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner services provided in the state, including services provided by laboratories operated by the state and services provided by laboratories operated by units of local government within the State.”23 The output measures for Coverdell awards are: Change in the number of days between submission of a sample to a forensic science laboratory and delivery of test results to a requesting office or agency. The number of backlogged forensic cases analyzed with Coverdell funds, if applicable to the grant. The number of forensic science or medical examiner personnel who completed appropriate training or educational opportunities with Coverdell funds, if applicable to the grant.24 States may be eligible for both “base” (formula) and competitive funds from NIJ for forensic science programs. Units of local government within states may be eligible for competitive funds and may apply directly to NIJ. The Coverdell law (42 U.S.C. § 3797k(4)) requires that, to request a grant, an applicant for Coverdell funds must submit: A certification and description regarding a plan for forensic science laboratories. A certification regarding use of generally accepted laboratory practices. A certification and description regarding costs of new facilities. A certification regarding external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. Program funding was $10 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, $15 million in FY 2005, and $18.5 million in FY 2006. Funds may be used for personnel, computerization, laboratory equipment, supplies, accreditation, education, training, certification, or facilities. FORENSIC SERVICES BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL LABORATORY Many forensic examiners do not work in a traditional crime laboratory. Often they work within law enforcement offices in units called “identifica- 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward tion units” or “fingerprint units.” For example, a 2004 study conducted by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) for NIJ reported that two-thirds of fingerprint identifications take place outside of traditional crime laboratories.25 Insufficient data are available on the size and expertise of this population of forensic examiners who are not employed in publicly funded forensic science laboratories. Therefore, in 2006, a survey instrument modeled after the BJS census was developed by researchers at West Virginia University in collaboration with the International Association for Identification (IAI).26 Its survey was sent to 5,353 IAI U.S. members in April 2007,27 targeting forensic scientists working outside the crime laboratories surveyed by BJS. Of the units responding to the IAI survey, most were publicly funded (e.g., city, borough, village, town, county, state, or federal), with half working at the local level. Units at the city, borough, village, or town level had a median annual budget of $168,850, compared to $387, 413 at the county level. Half are small units, with one to five full- and part-time employees. The units primarily conduct crime scene investigations, latent print and 10-print examinations, photography, and bloodstain pattern analyses. A smaller number are involved in other forensic functions, such as the analysis of digital evidence, footwear, tire track impressions, firearms, forensic art, questioned documents, polygraph tests, and dental evidence. For the responding units, the mean number of cases received per year was 2,780. The mean backlog was 9.4 percent of the annual caseload, with the backlog for latent prints being higher, at 12.3 percent of the caseload. More than half of the units report outsourcing work, primarily firearms, latent print, and footwear analyses. Although 69 percent of respondents replied that they had some system for verifying results, only 15 percent are accredited. FEDERAL FORENSIC SCIENCE ACTIVITIES Several federal agencies either provide support for forensic infrastructure, certification, and training, or conduct or fund forensic science in support of their missions. Brief descriptions follow. 25 American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. 2004. 180-Day Study Report: Status and Needs United States Crime Laboratories. Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/213422.pdf. 26 Witt, op. cit. 27 Ibid. Of the 815 surveys returned, 308 represented responses from active forensic service provider organizations (i.e., only 1 response per organization was included) outside of publicly funded crime laboratories.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Federal Forensic Science Laboratories The largest publicly funded forensic laboratory in the country is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. Other federal agencies have smaller crime laboratories, for example, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Army, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (known as ATF), the U.S. Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducts research in support of standard setting for gunshot residue analysis, trace explosives detectors, DNA analysis, and more. Some of these efforts are described below. The FBI Laboratory The types of cases investigated by the FBI include terrorism, espionage, public corruption, civil rights, criminal organizations and enterprises, white collar crime, and violent crime. Investigative case work services include those involving: chemistry cryptanalysis and racketeering records DNA analysis explosives evidence response firearms-toolmarks hazardous materials investigative and prosecutive graphics latent prints photographic operations and imaging services questioned documents structural design trace evidence specialty units According to the 2005 BJS report, the FBI Laboratory had approximately 600 employees in 2005, and it partners with state and local crime laboratories throughout the country. Its FY 2007 budget was $63 million. The FBI Laboratory provides a full range of forensic services and handles a large volume of fingerprint work, receiving approximately 50,000 fingerprint submissions every day. In July 1999, the FBI updated its fingerprint databases with the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Previously, all prints arrived on paper fingerprint cards that had to
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Box 2-2 FY 2007 NIJ Awards for Forensic Science Research and Development Biometric Technologies Automatic Finger print Matching Using Extended Feature Set, Michigan State University, $260,038 Selective Feature-Based Quality Measure Plug-In for Iris Recognition System, Indiana University, $84,858 Site-Adaptive Face Recognition at a Distance, General Electric Co., $496,341 Forensic DNA Research and Development A Low-Cost Microfluidic Microarray Instrument for Typing Y-Chromosome Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), Akonni Biosystems, Inc., $448,466 A Rapid, Efficient and Effective Assay to Determine Species Origin in Biological Materials, Bode Technology Group, Inc., $170,212 DNA Profiling of the Semen Donor in Extended Interval Post-Coital Samples, University of Central Florida, $271,504 Microfabricated Capillary Array Electrophoresis Genetic Analysis for Forensic Short Tandem Repeat DNA Profiling, Regents of the University of California, $592,183 National Institute of Justice Forensic DNA Research and Development, Network Biosystems, Inc., $497,346 National Institute of Justice Forensic DNA Research and Development in Vermont for Fiscal Year 2007,Vermont Department of Public Safety, $112,481 Population Genetics of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) for Forensic Purposes, Yale University, $680,516 Sperm Capture Using Aptamer-Based Technology, Denver, City and County of, $370,813 PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS Numerous professional organizations are focused on the forensic science disciplines (see Box 2-3). The Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, founded in 2000, includes the largest of these organizations—the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), ASCLD, ASCLD/LAB, IAI, NAME, and Forensic Quality Services (FQS). AAFS, with 6,000 members worldwide, was founded in 1948. It created and supports the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, which accredits
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Tools for Improving the Quality of Aged, Degraded, Damaged or Otherwise Compromised DNA Evidence, Louisiana State University, $580,337 Y Chromosome Whole Genome Analysis Strategies: Improved Detection of Male DNA, University of Central Florida, $324,705 Research and Development on Crime Scene Tools, Techniques and Technologies Detecting Buried Firearms Using Multiple Geophysical Technologies, University of Central Florida, $89,584 Developing Fluorogenic Reagents for Detecting and Enhancing Bloody Finger prints, Portland State University, $168,904 Electronic Finger print Development Device “Fuma-Room,” Mountain State University, $61,152 Investigations on the Use of Sample Matrix to Collect and Stabilize Crime Scene Biological Evidence for Optimized Analysis and Room Temperature Storage, California State University, Los Angeles, University Auxiliary Services, $353,449 Rapid Visualization of Biological Fluids at Crime Scenes Using Optical Spectroscopy, University of South Carolina Research Foundation, $382,394 Research and Development on Impression Evidence Analysis of Footwear Impression Evidence, Research Foundation of the State University of New York, $350,172 The Use of Infrared Imaging, a Robust Matching Engine and Associated Algorithms to Enhance Identification of Both 2-D and 3-D Impressions: Phase 1, SED Technology, LLC, $295,247 SOURCE: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/awards/2007.htm#solvingcoldcaseswithdna. certification organizations.47 Membership includes physicians, attorneys, dentists, toxicologists, physical anthropologists, document examiners, psychiatrists, physicists, engineers, criminalists, educators, and others. AAFS sponsors an annual scientific meeting, publishes the Journal of Forensic Sciences, and promotes research, education, and training. It also operates the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (see Chapter 8 for further discussion).48 47 See www.thefasb.org. 48 B.A. Goldberger, AAFS President-Elect. Presentation to the committee. January 25, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Box 2-3 Forensic Associations and Societies American Academy of Forensic Sciences American Board of Criminalistics American Board of Forensic Anthropology American Board of Forensic Odontology American Board of Forensic Toxicology American Society for Quality American Society for Testing and Materials American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors American Society of Questioned Document Examiners AOAC International Association of Firearm & Tool Marks Examiners Association of Forensic Quality Assurance Managers California Association of Criminalistics Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences Council of Federal Forensic Crime Laboratory Directors Forensic Science Society International Association for Identification International Association of Arson Investigators International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners International Association of Forensic Nurses International Association of Forensic Toxicologists Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists National Association of Medical Examiners National Center of Forensic Science National Forensic Science Technology Center New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists Northwest Association of Forensic Scientists Society of Forensic Toxicologists Southern Association of Forensic Science Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists Wisconsin Association for Identification IAI was founded in 1915 and has 6,700 members worldwide. Its members tend to be involved at the “front end” of the process—crime scene investigation, evidence collection, and evidence preservation.49 It operates certification programs in seven disciplines and publishes the Journal of 49 J. Polski, IAI Chief Operations Officer. Presentation to the committee. January 25, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Forensic Identification. The focus of its activities is pattern evidence—for example, fingerprint, footwear, tire track, questioned documents, forensic photography, and forensic art. ASCLD/LAB and FQS accredit crime laboratories and are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 7. Chapter 9 describes the activities of NAME. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION The fragmented nature of the forensic science community makes it difficult to gather data on the entire universe of forensic service entities and activities, although efforts have been made to collect data on publicly funded crime laboratories and nonlaboratory-based providers. For example, the committee could find no data available on for-profit forensic service providers, other than on DNA laboratories. Thus, attempts to construct effective policies are hampered by the lack of coherent and consistent information on the forensic science infrastructure in the United States. However, the large amount of information provided to the committee by people engaged in the forensic science enterprise and by experts who have studied how well that enterprise functions all points to a system that lacks coordination and that is underresourced in many ways. By using the term “underresourced,” the committee means to imply all of its dimensions. Existing data suggest that forensic laboratories are underresourced and understaffed, which contributes to a backlog in cases and likely makes it difficult for laboratories to do as much as they could to inform investigations, provide strong evidence for prosecutions, and avoid errors that could lead to imperfect justice. But underresourced also means that the tools of forensic science are not as strong as they could be. The knowledge base that underpins analysis and the interpretation of evidence—which enable the forensic science disciplines to excel at informing investigations, providing strong evidence for prosecutions, and avoiding errors that could lead to imperfect judgment—is incomplete in important ways. NIJ is the only federal agency that provides direct support to crime laboratories to alleviate the backlog, and those funds are minimal. The enterprise also is underresourced in the sense that it has only thin ties to an academic research base that could undergird the forensic science disciplines and fill knowledge gaps. This underresourcing limits the ability of the many hard-working and conscientious people in the forensic science community to do their best work. Among the various facets of underresourcing, the committee is most concerned about the knowledge base, which is further examined in Chapter 5. Adding more dollars and people to the enterprise might reduce case backlogs, but it will not address fundamental limitations in the capability of the forensic science disciplines to discern valid information from crime scene
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward evidence. For the most part, it is impossible to discern the magnitude of those limitations, and reasonable people will differ on their significance. Forensic science research is not well supported, and there is no unified strategy for developing a forensic science research plan across federal agencies. Relative to other areas of science, the forensic science disciplines have extremely limited opportunities for research funding. Although the FBI and NIJ have supported some research in the forensic science disciplines, the level of support has been well short of what is necessary for the forensic science community to establish strong links with a broad base of research universities and the national research community. Moreover, funding for academic research is limited and requires law enforcement collaboration, which can inhibit the pursuit of more fundamental scientific questions essential to establishing the foundation of forensic science. Finally, the broader research community generally is not engaged in conducting research relevant to advancing the forensic science disciplines. The forensic science community also is hindered by its extreme disaggregation—marked by multiple types of practitioners with different levels of education and training and different professional cultures and standards for performance. Many forensic scientists are given scant opportunity for professional activities such as attending conferences or publishing their research, which could help strengthen that professional community. Furthermore, the fragmented nature of the forensic science community raises the worrisome prospect that the quality of evidence presented in court, and its interpretation, can vary unpredictably according to jurisdiction. Numerous professional associations are organized around the forensic science disciplines, and many of them are involved in training and education (see Chapter 8) and developing standards and accreditation and certification programs (see Chapter 7). The efforts of these groups are laudable. However, except for the largest organizations, it is not clear how these associations interact or the extent to which they share requirements, standards, or policies. Thus, there is a need for more consistent and harmonized requirements. In the course of its deliberations and review of the forensic science community, it became obvious to the committee that truly meaningful advances will not come without significant leadership from the federal government. The forensic science community lacks the necessary governance structure to pull itself up from its current weaknesses. Insufficiencies in the current system cannot be addressed simply by increasing the staff within existing crime laboratories and medical examiners offices. Of the many professional societies that serve the forensic science community, none is dominant, and none has clearly articulated the need for change or presented a vision for accomplishing it. And clearly no municipal or state forensic office has the mandate to lead the entire community. The major federal resources—NIJ
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward and the FBI Laboratory—have provided modest leadership, for which they should be commended. NIJ has contributed a helpful research program and the FBI Laboratory has spearheaded the SWGs. But again, neither entity has recognized, let alone articulated, a need for change or a vision for affecting it. Neither has the full confidence of the larger forensic science community. And because both are part of a prosecutorial department of the government, they could be subject to subtle contextual biases that should not be allowed to undercut the power of forensic science. The forensic science community needs strong governance to adopt and promote an aggressive, long-term agenda to help strengthen forensic science. Governance must be strong enough—and independent enough—to identify the limitations of forensic science methodologies and must be well connected with the Nation’s scientific research base in order to affect meaningful advances in forensic science practices. The governance structure must be able to create appropriate incentives for jurisdictions to adopt and adhere to best practices and promulgate the necessary sanctions to discourage bad practices. It must have influence with educators in order to effect improvements to forensic science education. It must be able to identify standards and enforce them. The governance entity must be geared toward (and be credible within) the law enforcement community, but it must have strengths that extend beyond that area. Oversight of the forensic science community and medical examiner system will sweep broadly into areas of criminal investigation and prosecution, civil litigation, legal reform, investigation of insurance claims, national disaster planning and preparedness, homeland security, certification of federal, state, and local forensic practitioners, public health, accreditation of public and private laboratories, research to improve forensic methodologies, education programs in colleges and universities, and advancing technology. The committee considered whether such a governing entity could be established within an existing federal agency. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was considered because of its strengths in leading research and its connections to the research and education communities. NSF is surely capable of building and sustaining a research base, but it has very thin ties to the forensic science community. It would be necessary for NSF to take many untested steps if it were to assume responsibility for the governance of applied fields of science. The committee also considered NIST. In the end analysis, however, NIST did not appear to be a viable option. It has a good program of research targeted at forensic science and law enforcement, but the program is modest. NIST also has strong ties to industry and academia, and it has an eminent history in standard setting and method development. But its ties to the forensic science community are still limited, and it would not be seen as a natural leader by the scholars, scientists, and practitioners in the field. In sum, the committee concluded that neither NSF nor NIST has
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward the breadth of experience or institutional capacity to establish an effective governance structure for the forensic science enterprise. There was also a strong consensus in the committee that no existing or new division or unit within DOJ would be an appropriate location for a new entity governing the forensic science community. DOJ’s principal mission is to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law. Agencies within DOJ operate pursuant to this mission. The FBI, for example, is the investigative arm of DOJ and its principal missions are to produce and use intelligence to protect the Nation from threats and to bring to justice those who violate the law. The work of these law enforcement units is critically important to the Nation, but the scope of the work done by DOJ units is much narrower than the promise of a strong forensic science community. Forensic science serves more than just law enforcement; and when it does serve law enforcement, it must be equally available to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and defendants in the criminal justice system. The entity that is established to govern the forensic science community cannot be principally beholden to law enforcement. The potential for conflicts of interest between the needs of law enforcement and the broader needs of forensic science are too great. In addition, the committee determined that the research funding strategies of DOJ have not adequately served the broad needs of the forensic science community. This is understandable, but not acceptable when the issue is whether an agency is best suited to support and oversee the Nation’s forensic science community. In sum, the committee concluded that advancing science in the forensic science enterprise is not likely to be achieved within the confines of DOJ. Moreover, DHS is too focused on national security to embed a new entity within it. The committee thus concluded that no existing agency has the capacity or appropriate mission to take on the roles and responsibilities needed to govern and improve the forensic science community. The tasks assigned to it require that it be unfettered and objective and as free from bias as possible. What is needed is a new, strong, and independent entity with no ties to the past and with the authority and resources to implement a fresh agenda designed to address the many problems found by the committee and discussed in the remainder of this report. The proposed entity must meet the following minimum criteria: It must have a culture that is strongly rooted in science, with strong ties to the national research and teaching communities, including federal laboratories. It must have strong ties to state and local forensic entities, as well as to the professional organizations within the forensic science community.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward It must not be in any way committed to the existing system, but should be informed by its experiences. It must not be part of a law enforcement agency. It must have the funding, independence, and sufficient prominence to raise the profile of the forensic science disciplines and push effectively for improvements. It must be led by persons who are skilled and experienced in developing and executing national strategies and plans for standard setting; managing accreditation and testing processes; and developing and implementing rulemaking, oversight, and sanctioning processes. No federal agency currently exists that meets all of these criteria. Recommendation 1: To promote the development of forensic science into a mature field of multidisciplinary research and practice, founded on the systematic collection and analysis of relevant data, Congress should establish and appropriate funds for an independent federal entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS). NIFS should have a full-time administrator and an advisory board with expertise in research and education, the forensic science disciplines, physical and life sciences, forensic pathology, engineering, information technology, measurements and standards, testing and evaluation, law, national security, and public policy. NIFS should focus on: establishing and enforcing best practices for forensic science professionals and laboratories; establishing standards for the mandatory accreditation of forensic science laboratories and the mandatory certification of forensic scientists and medical examiners/forensic pathologists—and identifying the entity/entities that will develop and implement accreditation and certification; promoting scholarly, competitive peer-reviewed research and technical development in the forensic science disciplines and forensic medicine; developing a strategy to improve forensic science research and educational programs, including forensic pathology; establishing a strategy, based on accurate data on the forensic science community, for the efficient allocation of
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward available funds to give strong support to forensic methodologies and practices in addition to DNA analysis; funding state and local forensic science agencies, independent research projects, and educational programs as recommended in this report, with conditions that aim to advance the credibility and reliability of the forensic science disciplines; overseeing education standards and the accreditation of forensic science programs in colleges and universities; developing programs to improve understanding of the forensic science disciplines and their limitations within legal systems; and assessing the development and introduction of new technologies in forensic investigations, including a comparison of new technologies with former ones. The benefits that will flow from a strong, independent, strategic, coherent, and well-funded federal program to support and oversee the forensic science disciplines in this country are clear: The Nation will (1) bolster its ability to more accurately identify true perpetrators and exclude those who are falsely accused; (2) improve its ability to effectively respond to, attribute, and prosecute threats to homeland security; and (3) reduce the likelihood of convictions resting on inaccurate data. Moreover, establishing the scientific foundation of the forensic science disciplines, providing better education and training, and requiring certification and accreditation will position the forensic science community to take advantage of current and future scientific advances. The creation of a new federal entity undoubtedly will pose challenges, not the least of which will be budgetary constraints. The committee is not in a position to estimate how much it will cost to implement the recommendations in this report; this is a matter best left to the expertise of the Congressional Budget Office. What is clear, however, is that Congress must take aggressive action if the worst ills of the forensic science community are to be cured. Political and budgetary concerns should not deter bold, creative, and forward-looking action, because the country cannot afford to suffer the consequences of inaction. It will also take time and patience to implement the recommendations in this report. But this is true with any large, complex, important, and challenging enterprise. The committee strongly believes that the greatest hope for success in this enterprise will come with the creation of NIFS to oversee and direct the forensic science community. The remaining recommendations in this report are crucially tied to the creation of NIFS. However, each recom-
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward mendation is a separate, essential piece of the plan to improve the forensic science community in the United States. Therefore, even if the creation of NIFS is forestalled, the committee vigorously supports the adoption of the core ideas and principles embedded in the additional recommendations that appear in this report.
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