Thursday, August 13, 2020

U.S. Justice Department Issues Draft Guidance Regarding Expert Testimony and Lab Reports in Forensic Science

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Michael Whyte
Crime Scene Officer and Fingerprint Expert with over 12 years experience in Crime Scene Investigation and Latent Print Analysis. The opinions or assertions contained on this site are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as those of any professional organisation or policing body.
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The U.S. Justice Department announced on Friday 3rd June 2016, the release of draft guidance documents governing the testimony and reports of the department’s forensic experts.  These documents, available for public comment through July 8, are designed to ensure that department forensic experts only make statements in the courtroom and in laboratory reports that are supported by sound science.

The drafting of these proposed documents arose out of the department’s ongoing, multi-year effort to strengthen the practice of forensic science.  Once finalized and adopted, these documents, known as the Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports, will apply to all department personnel who issue forensic reports or provide expert forensic testimony, including forensic experts at the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

“Forensic science is a critical component of our criminal justice system, both for identifying the perpetrator of a crime and for clearing the innocent,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.  “Once finalized and adopted, these guidance documents will clarify what scientific statements our forensic experts may – and may not – use when testifying in court and in drafting reports, in turn strengthening the integrity of our system overall.”

The proposed uniform language documents released today cover seven forensic science disciplines: body fluid testing (serology), drug and chemical analysis (general chemistry), fibers, foot prints/tire treads, glass, latent fingerprints and toxicology.  This summer, the department will release a second round of proposed documents for public comment, which will include draft guidance relating to DNA, explosive devices, hair analysis and handwriting.  The department expects to adopt final versions of these documents later this year.

Once finalized and adopted, the uniform language documents will only apply to department personnel, but the department decided to release the proposed documents for public comment in an effort to promote transparency and to solicit feedback from the broader forensic science community.  As today’s proposed documents make clear, the uniform language documents are not intended to serve as precedent for other forensic laboratories and do not imply that statements by other laboratories are incorrect, indefensible or erroneous.

Copies of the proposed uniform language documents are available for review at https://justice.gov/forensics. Public comments may be submitted through www.regulations.gov.

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