This week, the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations is recognizing September 16-22, 2018 as National Forensic Science Week. The Innocence Project would like to acknowledge those who conduct research, support scientific investigations and work to strengthen the field through improvements in research, standards development and quality management.
In the nearly a decade since it was released, the National Academy of Sciences report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, has continued to generate national-level discussions about the need to support forensic science. Thanks to advocacy from the forensic science community, Congress has taken steps to address the report’s recommendations by supporting programs that advance forensic science research and standards setting.
The Innocence Project supports these recommendations, particularly those that strengthen forensic techniques through rigorous scientific research and support the establishment of standards and best practices. To this end, we encourage continuing forensic science research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which conducts research in-house and funds the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE), a Center of Excellence dedicated to forensic science that involves collaborations among more than 60 researchers and practitioners. NIST also hosts the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC), a convening of subject matter experts who develop discipline-specific forensic science standards.
NIST’s contribution to forensic science cannot be understated. As a science agency uniquely qualified to conduct foundational research and develop standards, NIST’s leadership has played an important role in advancing forensic science. By gathering research scientists and forensic science practitioners, NIST has cultivated a generation of researchers who can tackle current problems in forensic science and produce sound research that improves the quality of evidence used to adjudicate criminal cases.
Victims, defendants, police, prosecutors and courts all gain from an efficient and effective system that minimizes errors. If we increase the reliability of criminal evidence and improve the tools and practices available to forensic practitioners, we can prevent wrongful convictions while enhancing public safety by focusing resources on uncovering the facts in criminal cases.
To this end, we support federal funding for forensic and measurement science research, foundational research to assess the technical merit of forensic science disciplines, groundbreaking forensic science focused statistical research through CSAFE and development of forensic science standards by OSAC at NIST. Additionally, NIST can create frameworks to identify technologies that can be transferred into forensic laboratories in valid, reliable, efficient and effective ways, as well as guide our country’s investment in the future of forensic science. Without this funding, the momentum generated by the partnership between researchers and practitioners will be lost at a time when past investments are beginning to bear fruit.
The Innocence Project commends the efforts of those in the forensic community who continually strive to enhance forensic sciences. We do our part by advocating for crucial financial support through the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants that provide funding for crime laboratories and medical examiners. Through this work, and through future collaborations with other stakeholder efforts, we hope to achieve the future that we and the forensic community seek. And, we hope National Forensic Science Week helps pave the way to that end.