Senate Panel Considers National Standards for Forensic Evidence

Article excerpt

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on March 28 to address the federal government's role in establishing scientific standards for forensic evidence.

Currently, there are no national standards in forensic science, leaving interpretation of evidence, such as DNA and fingerprint matching, up to individual scientists and technicians. The rapid development of evidence-based standards is crucial because, said Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), many prosecutors and lawmakers assume that forensic evidence has undergone rigorous scientific review, a misconception propagated by popular television shows.

Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) opened the hearing by outlining the unique position of forensic science: Although there are many fields of forensics, the discipline does not have a culture of science with a peer review process. Rockefeller announced his intention to prioritize the introduction of science into forensics, using the work of NSF and NIST for guidance. Rep. John Boozman (R-AK) discussed the importance of science-based forensic standards for homeland security and the U.S. justice system, citing a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report, which called for the standardization of forensics.

The three witnesses at the hearing cited the need for more research to develop these standards. Eric Lander, cochair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, described his experience as a scientific expert during one of the first DNA fingerprinting cases in the United States. …