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A total re-analysis of American forensics is underway – and could be “transformational” to the way criminal investigations are done, according to scientists leading it.
Coming in response to a 2009 report blasting how law enforcement uses forensic science, the American Association of the Advancement of Science project is reevaluating all techniques and methods in use throughout the criminal-justice system in the United States.
The analysis will be completed in the next 18 to 24 months, according to Mark S. Frankel, director of the project for the AAAS.
Ten disciplines are going to be subject to investigation. First up is ballistics and tool markers, latent fingerprints and arson investigations. Those are already underway.
The next seven are: bloodstain pattern analysis, digital evidence, footwear and tire tracks, bitemark analysis, fiber trace evidence, hair trace evidence, and trace evidence of paint and other coatings, according to the AAAS.
The results will be released on a rolling basis, Frankel told Forensic Magazine.
“We expect the reports emerging from the project to encourage basic research and to contribute to improving the quality of forensic science used in the legal system,” Frankel said in an email today. “The project’s impact could be transformational for the criminal justice system, enabling the public to have confidence that the ability to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent is advanced.”
The AAAS put the program together in response to a scathing report released in 2009 by the National Research Council. “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” called for major reforms to the criminal-justice system – and to establish national forensics scientific standards.
Already some evidence has come under scrutiny since that report. The FBI admitted it had flaws in its hair analysis involving thousands of cases over the course of two decades – prompting four states to review its own set of cases that involved the flawed technique. The reliability of bite marks have also come into question over the last year.
The advisory committee of the project involves prosecutors, investigators, statisticians, defense lawyers, judges, and academics.
The project is funded by some $400,000 from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Frankel said.