Science without Precedent: The Impact of the National Research Council Report on the Admissibility and Use of Forensic Science Evidence in the United States

British Journal of American Legal Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 585-617

33 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017

See all articles by Simon A. Cole

Simon A. Cole

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Gary Edmond

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 31, 2015

Abstract

This article treats the 2009 publication of a report on forensic science by the United States National Research Council (NRC or NAS report) as a watershed that illuminates the recent controversy around the forensic sciences. The NRC Report enabled a heterogeneous set of voices with a variety of perspectives and credentials, to momentarily speak univocally “for science”, through an authoritative national institution. The NRC produced a report that was surprisingly critical of both the forensic sciences and the performance of legal institutions. We might expect this temporary univocality and the directed criticism to pose challenges for law, particularly any attempt to dismiss or counter the epistemic authority of scientists and “science.” This article explores this issue by reviewing legal decisions on forensic science evidence published after the NRC report. We found that courts gave relatively little weight to “science” even when available as an official report from an authoritative institution. The article then reviews several rhetorical devices used by courts to justify their limited engagement with the NRC Report. The article concludes with some reflections on what this episode may reveal about the relationship between science and law more generally.

Keywords: forensic, admissibility, National Research Council, science

Suggested Citation

Cole, Simon A. and Edmond, Gary, Science without Precedent: The Impact of the National Research Council Report on the Admissibility and Use of Forensic Science Evidence in the United States (December 31, 2015). British Journal of American Legal Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 585-617, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2938805

Simon A. Cole (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )

2340 Social Ecology 2, RM
Irvine, CA 92697
949-824-1443 (Phone)
949-824-3001 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.seweb.uci.edu/faculty/cole/

Gary Edmond

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
Australia

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