Everyone is, by now, used to hearing the Miranda warning read to suspects. ... you have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford one, one will be appointed for you ... But what about all the other bells and whistles? If a suspect (who is innocent until proven guilty in the US) can't afford an attorney, how can he/she afford to run DNA, finger prints, and so forth? What if there is video evidence? How can the suspect afford to retain a video forensics expert?
When arrested, the Detectives dump the suspect's cell phone, take prints, maybe a DNA swab, grab video from the area surrounding the crime scene, and so forth. The Detective relies on a team of forensic specialists that can number in the dozens. If the suspect can't afford an attorney, what kind of forensic team does the suspect have?
I think that questions such as these are part of what's driving the NAS report's comments about separating the forensic labs from police agencies. While I don't necessarily support this move, I think that there is a happy medium. There are court qualified experts in private practice - they're just pricey. How do we get the price of competent forensic services down to where they are affordable to someone who can't afford an attorney?
A few of us in the field have begun exploring this issue. It seems to us that there is a need for services. One of the avenues that we've begun exploring is a charitable foundation where media forensics professionals in private practice could register as service providers in their respective geographical areas - and match these folks with donors and other support. In this way, everyone wins. Public Defenders have access to a media forensic talent pool, media forensics professionals have access to case work, and donors find a charity and a cause worthy of their support.
The ideas are just in their infancy. Stay tuned for more info.