Criminal Justice News

Monday, September 12, 2016

Justice Department Announces New Steps to Advance and Strengthen Forensic Science

Changes Include New Code of Professional Responsibility for Practice of Forensic Science

The Department of Justice announced new steps today as part of its ongoing commitment to strengthening and advancing forensic science.  The department will implement a number of steps that will promote professional responsibility among forensics practitioners, institute best practices and advance the relationship between the academic research of forensic science and implementation in the field.

“Today’s announcement marks yet another step forward in the department’s efforts to strengthen the practice of forensic science in our nation’s laboratories and courtrooms,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.  “We are continually looking at ways to ensure that forensic evidence is collected, analyzed and presented in a responsible and scientifically rigorous manner.”

The new policies include adopting a new code of professional responsibility that builds upon existing policies and accreditation requirements for departmental forensic examiners and laboratories. The department believes the code will improve education and guidance on professional responsibility while establishing a process for identifying and addressing violations of professional conduct.

Department forensic laboratories will also review their policies and procedures to ensure that forensic examiners are not using the expressions “reasonable scientific certainty” or “reasonable (forensic discipline) certainty” in their reports or testimony.  Department prosecutors will also abstain from using these expressions when presenting forensic reports or questioning forensic experts in court unless required by a judge or applicable law.  This decision complements the department’s efforts, announced earlier this year, to provide better guidance to forensic examiners and federal prosecutors on how to properly characterize the strength of forensic evidence in the courtroom.

The department also announced policies to implement greater transparency and access to forensic laboratory quality assurance documents and a plan to explore a grant funding of multiyear post-doctoral fellowships at federal, state and local forensic science service providers and forensic medicine service providers.

The new policies arose out of recommendations made by the National Commission of Forensic Science, which was established to advance the field of forensic science and make suggestions to the Attorney General on how to ensure that reliable and scientifically valid evidence is used when solving crimes.  The Attorney General’s decision to implement several of the commission’s recommendations was announced at a meeting of the commission today.  A memo was also sent to all department component heads directing the implementation of the recommendations.  Additional information on the department’s ongoing work to strengthen forensic science can be found at

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