Report calls for nationwide crime lab overhaul

By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Researchers have concluded the nation's crime labs need an overhaul because they lack strict and consistent scientific standards.

A 255-page report from the National Academy of Sciences is urging the creation of national standards of training, certification and expertise for forensic criminal work, much of which is currently done on a city or state level.

The authors of the report say the lack of consistent standards raises the possibility that the quality of forensic evidence presented in court can vary unpredictably.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday he had not reviewed the report, but said the government should devote "more attention, more time, more resources, to that issue."

"We have the potential to resolve a lot of crimes - to find people who are guilty, to absolve people who are not, through the use of these great forensic techniques," Holder said.

The report comes at a time when public perceptions of forensic evidence are being pulled in opposite directions.

The now-regular use of new DNA evidence overturning past convictions has led to renewed doubts about the accuracy of other forensic methods. In the meantime, popular shows like "CSI" suggest such evidence contains little or no room for doubt.

The federal government, the report concluded, should step in and assert uniform principles to the scientific evidence and testimony that often play a critical role in courtrooms.

"The forensic science community and the medical examiner/coroner system must be upgraded if forensic practitioners are to be expected to serve the goals of justice," the report found.

Professional organizations of crime scene investigators, lab technicians, medical examiners, and coroners are not powerful enough on their own to overhaul the system, the report's authors conclude.

The NAS report recommends Congress create and fund a new, national institute of forensic science to help establish consistent standard for forensic science, certification of experts, and development of new technology. It also recommends that forensic science work be moved out of the offices of law enforcement agencies in order to foster more unbiased analysis.


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