The U.S. Department of Justice is developing guidance documents governing the testimony and reports of its forensic experts. These documents, known as “Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports,” or ULTR documents, are designed to provide guidance on the submission of scientific statements by the Department’s forensic examiners when drafting reports or testifying. The ULTRs are available here.
While these ULTR documents are not binding upon state and local labs, attorneys should be aware of the recommendations in the documents as many view them as best practices in the field. ULTRs exist for many forensic disciplines, but the newest documents which go into effect on August 15, 2020, include recommendations for firearms/toolmarks, footwear, forensic geology, glass, latent print, metallurgy, and tire comparison.
The fingerprint and firearm ULTRs each include new limitations on language that examiners may use in reports or testimony, including not asserting an identification is based on “uniqueness” of an item of evidence, not using the terms “individualize” or “individualization”, and not asserting that the compared items originated from the same source to the exclusion of all other sources.
Prior to trial, attorneys should become familiar with the language permitted by the laboratory that conducted the analysis, consider what language might be used in testimony by reviewing transcripts of previous testimony, and decide whether to request limitations on the language that can be used in testimony.