Just after Labor Day, another class of 36 lawyers, prosecutors and defense attorneys will sit in the auditorium of the Maricopa County Forensic Science Center (aka the Medical Examiner’s Office) and learn about forensic science together. This fall, Arizona will hold its second Forensic Science Advanced Academy, the fourth Academy to date. The Academy began in January 2011, with nearly 50 attorneys who, every Friday afternoon, made their way to the Medical Examiner’s office for three months to learn about various areas of forensic science that they expected to use in their cases. The curriculum included crime scene investigation, toxicology, DNA, latent print analysis, firearms, ballistics, pathology, trace evidence and digital forensics.
This Academy, the only one of its kind nationally, began as a project of the Education Committee of the Attorney General's Office Forensic Services Advisory Committee (chaired by retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ron Reinstein). From the inception of that Committee, the group discussed the need to train judges, lawyers and law enforcement personel.
With the Maricopa County Medical Examiner hosting the effort, and criminalists from the Phoenix Police Department Crime Lab and the Arizona Department of Public Safety as the presenters, as well as the support of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council and the Office of the Public Defenders, the Academy has trained over 110 attorneys in both the Basic and Advanced settings. The Advanced Academy goes into more detail with DNA, and includes current research and validation studies for latent print analysis, ballistic reconstruction and gunshot wounds, as well as ethics. The Academy has provided the attorneys an opportunity to have a closer working relationship with scientists and permits the scientists to understand better what expectations the attorneys have of them in the courtroom setting.
This clearly is a project that is responsive to the concerns raised in the NAS report regarding the lack of sufficient education in the forensic science disciplines by criminal justice practitioners. Arizona hopes to craft an Academy for judges in the future.