The NAS/NRC Report on Forensic Science: A Path Forward Fraught with Pitfalls
19 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2010 Last revised: 8 Mar 2010
Date Written: January 15, 2010
American forensic science as an organized field is less than a hundred years old. On balance this relatively young field has almost certainly had a positive impact on the accurate determination of factual guilt and factual innocence in the criminal justice system. However, in the flush of youth, it is not uncommon for claims to outrun capabilities. For several decades now many from the academy and some from forensic science itself have pointed to weaknesses both in various forensic fields, and in the structure of forensic science practice itself - weaknesses which raised the specter of a forensic science that sometimes made unwarranted claims, and that could in practice sometimes aid in the conviction of the innocent. These criticisms were generally dismissed without much examination by the bulk of the forensic science establishment, and the proponents of those claims dismissed as well. However, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee Report has now made it untenable to treat criticisms as simply the cavils of uninformed academics with nothing better to do. For that report identifies and documents many of the weaknesses that had been pointed out by critics over the years, and it calls for the strengthening of forensic science through a process designed to address those weaknesses. As a well-documented catalogue of the problems of forensic science by a highly credentialed body, this report is hugely important. But as a blueprint for change, it is subject to some serious reservations. The official title of the report is STRENGTHENING FORENSIC SCIENCE IN THE UNITED STATES: A PATH FORWARD. This paper will address the general route envisioned by the NAS Committee in its report, and some of the more serious roadblocks and pitfalls that one may expect to encounter on that proposed path forward.
Keywords: evidence, forensic evidence, scientific evidence, forensic science, criminal law, criminal procedure, NAS Report
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