Update from the NCDD Forensics Committee

There have been 9 committee meetings by the NCFS (National Commission on Forensic Science) created by the Obama administration. The commission is comprised of scientists, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.  Here are the highlights from each meeting:

 

Meeting 1: Update from the NIST committees, the objective focus has been on strengthening forensic science in the United States.

 

Meeting 2: Explored issues of cognitive bias and ethics in forensic science. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Barbara Hervey emphasized the need for judges to receive forensic training and education.

 

Meeting 3: Concerned issues of cognitive bias.

 

Meeting 4: NACDL member Marvin Schecter recommended that lab accreditations meet ISO (International Standards Organization) standards. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Barbara Hervey discussed what is ineffective assistance for expert witnesses.

 

Meeting 5: Dealt with forensic definitions and adopted a policy on accreditation for medicolegal death investigation offices.

 

Meeting 6: Addressed adopting definitions for forensic science for certain terms.

 

Meeting 7: Discussion regarding the need for a national register of court experts.  Mr. Smithius, Managing Director of the Netherlands Register of Court Experts, explained how it works in the Netherlands. It was explained that 40% of experts are rejected. Judges and defense attorneys do not have to select an expert from the Registry, but must explain why they did not. There is controversy regarding defining “reasonable scientific uncertainty”.

 

Meeting 8: US Attorney General Loretta Lynch responds to NCFS recommendations. Affecting over 18,000 law enforcement agencies, Lynch recommends that by 2020 all departments which provide forensic science services (except digital evidence) obtain or maintain accreditation. In addition, she further recommended that by 2020, all Department of Justice attorneys be mandated to use accredited forensic testing entities (except digital evidence).

 

Meeting 9: It is reported that the accreditation and proficiency testing subcommittee is hard at work. There is debate over the definition of “uncertainty”.

 

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch remarked at meeting seven that she would consider every recommendation of the NCFS and respond within two meetings.

NCDD (National College of DUI Defense) Faculty member Ted Vosk has been submitting input on defining the margin of uncertainty. In the 2016 NCDD summer session Board Meeting, it was agreed that the Dean would send a thank you letter to two individuals for their input with the NFSC:

 

  1. William Guthrie, Chief of the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Statistical Engineering Division, for reporting “It is disappointing to have language such as ‘effectively results in virtually no uncertainty’ in an approved OSAC (Organization of Scientific Area Committees) document.”
  2. The Honorable Harry T. Edwards, Sr. Judge for the US Appeals Court of DC, for his contributions to the February 2014 NCFS meeting. He stated, “Judicial review by itself is not enough. Absent meaningful action, courts will continue to allow the introduction of forensic evidence simply because precedent exists to admit it.” He further discussed the lack of standards as they relate to court cases, and suggested that Daubert has not led to significantly meaningful changes. He remarked “The courts will not be able to move beyond the routine admission of forensic science without the input of scientists.”

NCDD Forensics committee applauds the hard work of the National Commission of Forensic Science and welcomes any NCDD member who would like to participate in the committee.  It also thanks the experts who have been alerting and educating the committee to the progress and issues important for the defense of the accused.