The Committee has reviewed the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories and the National Institute of Justice “Status and Needs of Forensic Science Services: A Report to Congress” as requested in the FY05 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Subcommittee report. The Committee has concluded that the backlog in forensic science labs is not limited to DNA. In fact, these studies demonstrate a disturbing trend of increased cases and increased backlog in all disciplines of forensic science.
According to the BJS Census a typical lab “finished the year with a backlog of about 650 requests, which was an increase of 73% from 2001” and “seventy-three percent of the total backlogged requests at yearend 2002 were attributable to controlled substances (46%), latent prints (17%) and DNA analysis (10%)”. Further, the study concluded that only “2% of all new requests were in the area of DNA analysis”. Theses statistics are alarming to the Committee as the proposed budget would allocate 100% of the federal funds for forensic science to DNA which represents only 2% of the workload within the forensic community. Further, these data do not include the nation’s medical examiners/coroners responsible for investigating all homicides.
It is the belief of this Committee based on the findings of these studies that the budget should allocate funds to all disciplines rather than only one. Therefore, the Committee provides $30m of the President’s proposed DNA Initiative to the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Improvement Act.
The Committee also believes that the results of these studies are indicative of a larger problem within the forensic science and legal community of which there is little to no data. While the analysis of the requirements in the discipline of DNA is extensive there exists little to no analysis of the remaining needs of the community other than the studies mentioned previously. However, due to the increased public awareness of forensic science and its ability to provide the judicial system timely and accurate evidence the burden on the forensic community has increased. Juries believe that incriminating and/or exculpatory forensic science is now a necessity in a trial. Therefore, the Committee directs the Attorney General to provide $2m to the National Academy of Sciences to create an independent forensic science committee. This Committee shall include members of the forensics community representing operational crime laboratories, medical examiners and coroners; legal experts and other scientists as determined appropriate by the committee. The Committee will:
1)assess the present and future resource needs of the forensic science community to include State and local crime labs and medical examiners/coroners
2)make recommendations for maximizing the use of forensic technologies and techniques to solve crimes, investigate deaths and protect the public
3)identify potential scientific advances that may assist law enforcement in using forensic technologies and techniques to protect the public
4) make recommendations for programs that will increase the number of qualified forensic scientists and medical examiners available to work in public crime laboratories
5)disseminate best practices and guidelines concerning the collection, analyses of forensic evidence to help ensure quality and consistency in the use of forensic technologies and techniques to solve crimes, investigate deaths and protect the public
6)the role of the forensic community in the Homeland Security mission
7)interoperability of AFIS systems
8)examine additional issues pertaining to forensic science as determined by the committee.
The National Academy will report to this Committee and other interested Members of Congress on its findings.
HOMELAND SECURITY - Strategic Solution for US-VISIT Program Needs to Be Better Defined, Justified, and Coordinated (PDF)
Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2002
Articles Of Interest
Bill Would Improve Reliability of Forensic Evidence (PDF)
Senator Patrick Leahy introduces "Criminal Justice And Forensic Science Reform Act of 2011" (PDF)
DNA As An Identifier Final (PDF)
Forensic Associations Paper (PDF)
CLP Morgue Volume 4, #25 (PDF)
Ms. Beth Lavach
President, ELS and Associates