Several articles back, in reference to the National Institute of Justice/Urban Institute report on the use of DNA in property crime investigations, I said that it was about time that an independent research report confirmed what many us in the forensic DNA community already knew—forensic DNA technology is particularly well suited for the investigation and prosecution of property crimes. The recently released study by the National Academy of Sciences: Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: a Path Forward, is cause for a similar reaction.
For years now, the path of DNA’s integration into criminal justice systems throughout the world has been casually, albeit accurately, referred to as the “gold” standard for forensic science. The National Academy of Sciences’ thorough, two year study, designed to identify the needs of the forensic science community, has provided a scientific foundation to an otherwise anecdotal characterization. According to the report, “no forensic method”—with the notable exception of DNA analysis—“has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”
The goal of the study, however, was to recommend solutions to those issues which prevent other forensic technologies from providing the same level of confidence in their accuracy. The breadth and scope of the report, for a relatively short two year project, was an ambitious endeavor. The Congressional mandate was as follows:
- Assess the present and future resource needs of the forensic science community, to State and local crime labs, medical examiners, and coroners;
- Make recommendations for maximizing the use of forensic technologies and techniques to solve crimes, investigate deaths, and protect the public;
- Identify potential scientific advances that may assist law enforcement in using forensic technologies and techniques to protect the public;
- Make recommendations for programs that will increase the number of qualified forensic scientists and medical examiners available to work in public crime laboratories;
- Disseminate best practices and guidelines concerning the collection and analysis of forensic evidence to help ensure quality and consistency in the use of forensic technologies and techniques to solve crimes, investigate deaths, and protect the public;
- Examine the role of the forensic community in the homeland security mission;
- Examine interoperability of Automated Fingerprint Information Systems [AFIS]; and
- Examine additional issues pertaining to forensic science as determined by the Committee.