Monday, April 14, 2014

Senate Commerce Committee Approves Bill Ensuring Forensics Practices are Based on Best Science

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, establishing scientific review and standards for forensic sciences, Wednesday. The bill, which was introduced by Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, was unanimously voted out of committee by a bipartisan voice vote and clears the way for the bill to be considered by the full Senate.

Unvalidated and improper forensic science is one of the greatest contributors to wrongful convictions, playing a role in nearly half of the 316 cases later overturned by DNA evidence. The landmark 2009 National Academy of Sciences’ report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, found that there is a desperate need to improve the validity and scientific quality of forensic evidence.

The Forensic Science and Standards Act would employ existing scientific agencies to develop and direct forensic research and set and implement standards for the forensic disciplines, helping to ensure that these disciplines are based on solid, reliable research.

Here's some interesting quotes from the text of the bill:

"The term forensic science means the basic and applied scientific research applicable to the collection, evaluation, and analysis of physical evidence, including digital evidence, for use in investigations and legal proceedings, including all tests, methods, measurements, and procedures."

"… the term applied scientific research means a systematic study to gain knowledge or understanding necessary to determine the means by which a recognized and specific need may be met."

"Forensic science standards
(a) Establishment
(1) In general
The National Institute of Standards and Technology shall—
(A) identify or coordinate the development of forensic science standards to enhance the validity and reliability of forensic science activities, including—
(i) authoritative methods, standards, and technical guidance, including protocols and best practices, for forensic measurements, analysis, and interpretation;
(ii) technical standards for products and services used by forensic science practitioners;
(iii) standard content, terminology, and parameters to be used in reporting and testifying on the results and interpretation of forensic science measurements, tests, and procedures; and
(iv) standards to provide for the interoperability of forensic science-related technology and databases;
(B) test and validate existing forensics standards, as appropriate; and
(C) provide independent validation of forensic science measurements and methods."

Three cheers for the Senate Commerce Committee.

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