National Commission on Forensic Science to be created

On nearly the four year anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report which sharply criticized the forensic science system in the United States, the federal government announced the establishment of a National Commission on Forensic Science.

The NAS Report recommended an overhaul of the current forensic system, including urging the establishment of a independent federal agency, the National Institute of Forensic Science. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced Friday that they will create a national commission to strengthen and enhance the practice of forensic science.

Justice Department and NIST officials will lead the new 30-member commission. Among its members will be forensic scientists, researchers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. Interested stakeholders can apply for appointment to the commission following an announcement of membership criteria in an upcoming Federal Register notice.

Groups of forensic science practitioners and academic researchers administered by NIST will develop discipline-specific practice guidance for federal, state and local forensic science laboratories. The commission will consider these practices and develop policy recommendations for the Attorney General. The commission’s work will help standardize national guidance for forensic science practitioners, develop uniform codes for professional responsibility, and establish requirements for training and certification.

According to a Washington Post article, experts have said NIST-administered guidance groups could replace the ad hoc groups of practitioners who currently establish the practices for each field of forensic evidence. These ad hoc groups have been criticized for not following standard practices, working in secret, and being too closely tied to law enforcement. Critics have said that these weaknesses result in inconsistency in the techniques used by individual crime labs and differences in how forensic examiners testify about results.

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