A federal office to set forensic science standards could be created, as part of legislation introduced in Congress last Friday.
The bills seek to “establish standards and protocols across forensic disciplines,” according to the short summaries.
The legislation comes amid other review of forensic standards that have been used at crime scenes and in courtrooms for decades – and amid growing doubts concerning some disciplines, such as hair follicle analysis and bite marks.
The bills are not yet available online. The drafts (S 3259 and HR 5795) are sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, 30th Dist.). The pieces of legislation have already been referred to committees.
The establishment of such an office was welcomed by the Innocence Project, which has used evolving DNA methods to overturn 342 wrongful convictions.
“We look forward to working with members of both chambers to pass this critical legislation,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, in a statement. “Providing law enforcement with scientifically-backed forensic tools that aid in accurately identifying the real assailants is the best way to protect everyone’s safety while also insuring that innocent people are not wrongly accused and convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.”
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences did not return a request for comment on the legislation.
A previous bill that would have established an entity called the National Forensic Science Coordinating Office was recommended by the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in 2014. However, the legislation was not passed. Estimates for the implementation of the office ran to $101 million for the first five years of transition.
READ MORE: National Review of Forensics Underway, Could be ‘Transformational’
Currently, a “transformational” review of national forensic practices is already underway at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ten disciplines are being put under the AAAS microscope. First up is ballistics and tool markers, latent fingerprints and arson investigations. Those are already underway. The next seven are: bloodstain pattern analysis, digital evidence, footwear and tire tracks, bitemark analysis (bold added), fiber trace evidence, hair trace evidence, and trace evidence of paint and other coatings, according to the AAAS.
The review was prompted by the National Academy of Sciences scathing report released in 2009 entitled, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”
Sarah Chu, a senior forensic policy advocate at the Innocence Project, said the two new bills would continue the progress made at the federal level.
“This legislation allows Congress to formally authorize the substantial work the federal government has undertaken – and would assure the work is continued and funded into the future,” Chu said.
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