Four years after the National Academy of Science’s 2009 report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward called for basic changes in the forensic sciences, U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology have announced they will create a national commission on forensic science. The commission will have 30 members — forensic science practitioners, researchers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges — who will develop policy recommendations for the Attorney General. According to the Department of Justice announcement:
The commission will have responsibility for developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the courtroom and developing policy recommendations, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for training and certification. The new initiative provides a framework for coordination across forensic disciplines under federal leadership, with state and local participation. The Department of Justice, through its involvement in the commission, will take an active role in developing policy recommendations and coordinating implementation.
For many who looked for action in the wake of the National Academy of Science’s 2009 report and saw very little, the creation of the commission will comes as a welcome step forward. The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), which took a fairly negative view of the 2009 report and its recommendations, is now reacting with a wait and see attitude. The NDAA has not yet put out a formal statement in reaction to the announcement of the commission; according to Scott Burns, the Executive Director of the NDAA, the organization will do that once it gets the details on the commission, especially its composition. So far, Burns told me, the NDAA is “encouraged” by the fact that prosecutors will be part of the commission, though he stresses that he hopes to see more state and local prosecutors than federal ones. Burns said that if the commission begins with the attitude that “the system is broken” and that its basics — fingerprints, tool marks, and the like — must be fixed, the NDAA will not look on it favorably. On the other hand, if the commission starts with the attitude that “we can improve” the system but that it basically functions well, that would be welcome.
I will write further on this as the story develops.