Reports and Publications
The US DOJ published a statement on the Sept. 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Report, Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods. The DOJ explains its disagreements with the 2016 report in the statement.
In summary, the DOJ’s position is that:
- Traditional forensic pattern examination methods—as currently practiced—do not belong to the scientific discipline of metrology. Forensic examiners visually compare the individual features observed in two examined samples, they do not measure. The result of this comparison is a conclusion that is stated in words (nominal terms), not magnitudes (measurements).
- PCAST’s claim that forensic pattern examination methods can only be validated using its non-severable set of nine experimental design criteria is inconsistent with its own examples, international laboratory standards, and authorities in experimental design. There is no single scientifically recognized means by which to validate a scientific method.
- Casework error rates cannot be established through the exclusive and non-severable application of PCAST’s experimental design criteria. No single error rate is applicable to all labs, examiners, or cases.
The Innocence Project called on the DOJ to retract its statement on the widely-accepted PCAST Report. Their Feb. 4, 2021 letter is available here. Here is a response to the DOJ statement by Maneka Sinha in Slate.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences Standards Board develops documentary standards for forensics through a consensus process, involving participation by all directly and materially affected persons. The standards that have been published are available on the ASB website. Standards are being developed for each forensic discipline.
- Forensic Handwriting Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice Through a Systems Approach, NIST
NIST convened the Expert Working Group for Human Factors in Handwriting Examination to recommend ways to improve the practice and reduce the likelihood of errors. The Group’s report discusses human factors as they relate to all aspects of handwriting examination, including communicating conclusions through reports and testimony. The report also discusses education, training, certification, and the role of quality assurance, quality control, and management in reducing errors.
- No Longer the Gold Standard: Probabilistic Genotyping is Changing the Nature of DNA Evidence in Criminal Trials
Author: Bess Stiffelman Esq.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report (known as the PCAST report) in September 2016. This report assesses the scientific validity and reliability of some important forms of forensic evidence and of testimony. In Jan. 2017, PCAST published an addendum to their report which is available here.
NIJ-funded research that looked at 460 violent felonies between 1980 and 2012 to determine what factors led to a wrongful conviction of an innocent defendant instead of dismissal or acquittal. Factors identified by researchers include: a younger defendant, a criminal history, a weak prosecution case, prosecution withheld evidence, lying by a non-eyewitness, unintentional witness misidentification, misinterpreting forensic evidence at trial, a weak defense, defendant offered a family witness, and a “punitive” state culture.
by Paul C. Giannelli. This paper addresses the scientific, law enforcement and legal reasons for a lack of research across many forensic disciplines from a historical perspective as well as in light of the National Academy of Sciences’ report. Click on “one-click download” to view the full text article.
Report submitted by Judge Vince Rozier during his time as Ombudsman to the SBI. The document includes a memo by Judge Joseph John responding to the recommendations of the Ombudsman. The report was released by the SBI in Aug. 2011.
by Jennifer L. Mnookin, Simon A. Cole, Itiel E. Dror, Barry A. J. Fisher, Max M. Houck, Keith Inman, David H. Kaye, Jonathan J. Koehler, Glenn Langenburg, D. Michael Risinger, Norah Rudin, Jay Siegel, and David A. Stoney. Explores to what extent forensic sciences need to change to develop a well-established scientific foundation. Finds that a research culture, grounded in empiricism, transparency, and a commitment to an ongoing critical perspective needs to be developed.
- Commentary by Judge Nancy Gertner on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences
The National Resource Counsel authored this manual to assist judges in cases involving scientific and technical evidence. There are chapters on admissibility of expert testimony, DNA evidence, statistics, toxicology, medical testimony, and many more forensic topics.
Chris Swecker and Michael Wolf were retained by the NC Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the Forensic Biology Section of the SBI Crime Laboratory. The investigation began in March 2010 and focuses on policies, procedures and practices between 1987 and 2003. The Appendix to the report contains a list of affected cases.
- Additional 75 cases – In March 2011, an SBI internal review of serology cases revealed an additional 75 defendants whose cases were affected by the same problematic reporting practices as the 230 cases identified in the Swecker Report. The additional cases were discovered when lab staff hand-reviewed files that had been screened electronically for the Swecker investigation.
The Wolf Memo – Michael Wolf’s provided a summary of Forensic Serology Laboratory Reporting Policies from the FBI and other states around 1990/1991.
The News and Observer published Chris Swecker’s previous report to the SBI regarding SBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dwight Ransome and related SBI policies and procedures. This report was commissioned by the Attorney General’s Office following Ransome’s involvement in the Alan Gell case. Recommendations from this report included changes to the SBI’s Report Writing Manual, additional training regarding obtaining and preserving documentary evidence, and confirmation from relevant DA’s offices that potential exculpatory material was provided in specified SBI investigations.
by Brandon Garrett and Peter Neufeld, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 1 (2009) – a study of the forensic science testimony by prosecution experts in the trials persons later exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing.
2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences (known as the NAS Report) which found serious problems in forensic science research and practice and recommended an overhaul of the current structure that supports the forensic science community.
by Frederic Whitehurst, 2004. This 2-part article provides a checklist of items to request in discovery from a forensic lab and explains the significance of each item. NACDL membership is required to access these articles.
From the Blog
- The latest volume of Behavioral Science Briefs for the Trial Advocate was published recently and is available here. It summarizes research on issues including juror decision-making, mock jurors’ evaluation of firearm testimony, eyewitness identifications, child interviewing, and other topics relevant to the criminal practitioner. A deep understanding of human behavior offers an edge to trial attorneys. …
- Forensics Linguistics, 10/5/2020In April 2020, Dr. Robert Leonard, Professor of Linguistics and Director of Hofstra’s Graduate Program in Linguistics presented a Hofstra Public Zoom Session on Forensic Linguistics. In the recorded session, Dr. Leonard shares his history working with the FBI and as a consultant on an extensive array of criminal cases and counterterrorism efforts, as well …
- Introducing the New Public Defense Portal, 8/17/2020NC Indigent Defense Services is excited to introduce a new streamlined communications platform for IDS communications with public defense attorneys that will save you time and eliminate clutter from your inbox. Beginning today, Aug. 17, 2020, we are asking all NC public defense attorneys to sign up for communications from the new Public Defense Portal …
- From the National Academy of Sciences, to the Washington Post, to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, there seems to be consensus that additional research is needed to validate several fields of forensic science. One challenge in collecting sufficient evidence to establish foundational validity is that because there is no ground truth in forensic casework, …
- Independent testing of forensic evidence, 12/30/2019The question of how to have forensic evidence tested or re-tested by an independent laboratory comes up in my case consultations. This post will outline the general process of requesting that evidence be independently tested in a court-appointed case, and I am happy to talk with attorneys about their specific cases and help weigh the …
- Strategic Litigation assistance available, 11/20/2019Below is an offer of support from Chris Fabricant at the Strategic Litigation department at the Innocence Project in NY. The Strategic Litigation department at the Innocence Project works to address the leading contributing causes of wrongful conviction: unvalidated and misapplied forensic science, eyewitness misidentification evidence, and false confessions. We are writing to express our …
- Some attorneys have asked how they can keep up with the latest developments in forensic evidence. Along with subscribing to newsletters from this site, below is a list of websites and electronic newsletters that can help keep attorneys informed about forensic evidence issues: News Forensic Magazine – can subscribe to receive a daily email of …
- NC attorneys may be aware that software programs are being adopted by crime laboratories to assist with interpreting complex DNA mixtures. The NC State Crime Laboratory is working on validating a procedure for the use of STRmix probabilistic genotyping software, which will likely go online in the coming months. It is crucial that attorneys understand …
- Amicus Lab post on Duke Law Forensics Forum, 5/22/2019
- Staying informed on forensic issues, 5/17/2019The new Forensic Resources website now offers email newsletters that will allow you to stay up-to-date on upcoming forensic trainings, blog posts, news articles, and specific forensic disciplines of interest to you. To subscribe, simply enter your name and areas of interest here. You’ll get notified when we post new content on the website and …
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a scientific research agency that works to advance measurement science, standards, and technology and that has been working to strengthen forensic science methods for almost a century. In recent years, several scientific advisory bodies have expressed the need for scientific foundation reviews of forensic disciplines and identified NIST as an appropriate agency for conducting them.
The purpose of a scientific foundation review is to identify and document information supporting methods and practices used in forensic analysis and to identify knowledge gaps where they exist. Beginning in fiscal year 2018, Congress appropriated funds for NIST to conduct scientific foundation reviews.
NIST has begun reviews of DNA mixture interpretation, bitemark analysis, digital evidence, and firearms examination. In addition to providing insights into these specific disciplines, the initial reviews serve as pilot studies which will guide future efforts.
This document outlines NIST’s approach to conducting scientific foundation reviews, including data sources used, evaluation criteria, and expected outputs.
- (Mis)use of scientific measurements in forensic science, Forensic Science International
Article by Itiel Dror and Nicholas Scurich on the insufficient attention or weight that has been given to inconclusive evidence and inconclusive decisions in forensic science error rate studies.
- No Longer the Gold Standard: Probabilistic Genotyping is Changing the Nature of DNA Evidence in Criminal Trials
Author: Bess Stiffelman Esq.
- Speakers: Brandon Garrett, Nicholas Scurich, and William Crozier. Presented by CSAFE. Recording available.
- Sponsored by Duke Law
- Offered by Godoy Medical Forensics, Speaker: Tara Godoy
- FORENSICS@NIST 2020, NISTOffered by NIST
- Free Medical Forensics Webinars: Blunt Force Trauma; Traumatic Brain Injury & Intoxication; and Reading Medical Records, Godoy Medical ForensicsOffered by Godoy Medical Forensics
This presentation, now available to view for free, was given as a part of the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence’s (CSAFE) 2020 All Hands Meeting. The meeting brings together researchers, forensic partners, and interested community members to discover potential areas for collaboration, highlight the organization’s achievements, and discuss goals for the future.
The presentation, given by Brandon Garrett, a professor at the Duke University School of Law, discusses the outcomes of recent research projects related to the use of forensic evidence in the courtroom. Projects included a study respond to information about the limitations of forensic evidence and general review of lay perspectives on forensic evidence. Professor Garrett also details the objectives for future projects related to forensic evidence in practice.
Did you ever want to understand what is meant by validity, reliability, accuracy, confidence interval, and similar terms? These webinars will explain those and other concepts in an accessible way.
CSAFE researcher and faculty member at the University of California, Irvine Bill Thompson has developed a series of videos as a Lawyer’s Guide to Probability and Statistics in Forensic Science. The goal of these videos is to help lawyers understand the numbers that forensic scientists use to characterize the strength of evidence. It’s also designed to help lawyers understand non-numerical statements that forensic scientists might make that are based on a statistical or probabilistic analysis.
NACDL has made available a 10-episode web series covering various topics of forensic science, including DNA, forensic pathology, toxicology, medical evidence, false confessions, and much more.
Join the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Innocence Project and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in collaboration with the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), for a one-day conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the pathbreaking NASEM report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” a report that challenged the way forensic science is conducted and the way it is presented in the courts.
Featured sessions will address developments over the past decade in the forensic sciences and in the courts, as well as in federal agencies and in laboratories
A livestream will be available on the program page November 12.
Duke University School of Law is excited to offer a short course on forensic evidence litigation, with CLE credit pending approval, at Duke Law in Durham, North Carolina.
The course is free and open to a small number of practicing criminal lawyers. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys are encouraged to attend. The course will be open to fifteen Duke Law students. The course will be most valuable for lawyers with some criminal experience, but without much experience litigating forensic science issues.
NACDL will host its annual forensic science CLE in Las Vegas on April 3-4, 2020. Topics include facial recognition software, SANE evidence, cross-examination of experts, arson investigations, latent fingerprints, electronic evidence, toxicology evidence, and more! Scholarships are available through NACDL.
Tara Godoy, BSN, RN, LNC presents on the review of medical records for the 9th Judicial Circuit Public Defender in Orlando, FL. She will explain what to look for in medical records, how to break them up in to more manageable pieces, how to digest medical history within them, and how to find evidence of drugs of abuse. She will also touch briefly on time of death as would be found in a medical examiners report and how to interpret evidence of bruising.
Forensic Nurse Tara Godoy provides information about types of bruises whether bruising can be dated by color.
The webcast from the 2019 NIST Evidence Management Conference is now available for free on-demand viewing.
The issue of evidence management has become a national concern for several reasons, including the movement to resolve sexual assault kit backlogs, headlines describing problems in evidence rooms and scientific advances that have led to an increase in the amount of evidence being submitted and stored. The infrastructure and technology necessary to manage the growing amount of collected evidence has not improved and the lack of interoperability between stakeholders remains a challenge.
The three-day Evidence Management Conference fostered awareness of this issue by discussing the state of the industry and by sharing successes, lessons learned and best practices. The event provided an opportunity for a candid discussion between law enforcement executives, criminal justice practitioners, policy makers, and the legal community from around the nation on the important issues of evidence management.
Symposium of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences and the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Agenda and registration information is available here.
For crime laboratories, transferring forensic science research into practice is a challenging problem. Thousands of research papers are published in forensic science journals every year, yet many innovations never make it to the crime lab.
What can the forensic science community do differently so that new technologies come online faster? How can obstacles to successful innovation be reduced?
On June 19-20, 2019, NIST will convene a symposium in Gaithersburg, MD aimed at answering these questions. Forensic scientists, researchers, and technology transfer experts will come together with laboratory professionals, business leaders and other stakeholders to explore ideas for speeding innovation in the nation’s crime labs. Plenary presentations will be webcast on June 19th 8:30 am – 2:30 pm and June 20th 10:15am – 11:15am ET. Registration information is available here.
The National Forensic College will be held on June 2-7, 2019, at Cardozo Law in New York City. The Forensic College is an advanced, week-long forensic science CLE designed for experienced trial and post-conviction litigators. The Forensic College prepares attorneys to litigate complex forensic science issues strategically and with the support of the nation’s leading law firms and experts. Attendance is by application only and space is limited. Since one core objective of the Forensic College is to train trainers so as to broadly elevate standards of practice in the defense community, the participants include training directors from federal defender offices, public defense organizations, and managed assigned counsel programs. This year the Forensic College has reserved 20 slots for private attorneys. The Forensic College is especially eager to identify private lawyers who may be involved in planning or implementing defense or wrongful conviction training programs in their communities, or those at law firms who may wish to participate in cutting-edge forensic litigation.
Topics for 2019 include Pattern Evidence, Digital Evidence, DNA (including an advanced track), Eyewitness Identification, Blood Pattern Analysis, Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma, Medical Evidence n Sexual Assault Cases, plus statistics in forensics, and development of police accountability databases by defenders and the private bar. For more information, visit www.nacdl.org/NFC2019.
The tuition cost of the Forensic College for private attorneys is $1,199 for the full six-day program. Understanding that it may be difficult for some lawyers to attend for the entire week, you may request to enroll for a specific day(s) only. Lodging is available at a hotel convenient to Cardozo Law School located near Madison Square ($280/night). Also, some dormitory lodging is available at the rate of $683 for the entire week.
The Forensic College is presented in collaboration with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Defender Services Training Division.
For more information about presumptive and confirmatory tests, the School of Government has posted a 30 minute online program that you can view for free or for CLE credit
NACDL’s list of crime lab and forensic scandals from 2007-2015.
Center dedicated to legislative, systemic, and direct service efforts to improve integrity in forensic science.
This database contains information on all known exonerations in the U.S., dating back to 1989. This is a joint project of the University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.
The Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Forensic Resources Unit assists and supports criminal defense attorneys in the public counsel and private counsel divisions of CPCS in the litigation of forensics issues in their cases. Their websites contains educational information about various forensics disciplines.
A collaboration between the Orlando Public Defender and the National Center for Forensic Science at UC Florida. The site has links to many helpful training videos that help attorneys understand forensic science evidence.
A comprehensive website of forensic science resources. Be sure to try the searchable database which locates books, articles, cases, law reviews and websites based on the topic of forensic science that you search.
The National Judicial College has posted this article containing a comprehensive list of resources on scientific evidence for judges and other legal professionals.
The National Forensic Science Technology Center created this website to explain in simplified terms the principles of each type of forensic analysis and how the analysis is performed. Topics include DNA, digital evidence, fingerprints, firearms, trace evidence, blood stains, and more.
February 1999 report by the National Institute of Justice that addresses the challenges facing the forensic science profession. Contains analysis and recommendations that complement the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report.
Vol. 1-5 available in the IDS Forensic Library. Forensic Resource Counsel also has access to the latest edition of the eBook.
This book by Professor David. A. Harris looks at why wrongful convictions occur and seeks to explain why law enforcement and prosecutors resist adopting improved forensic practices. The first chapter can be downloaded for free by clicking on the “Download This Paper” button. Available in the IDS Forensic Resource Library.
Motions and Briefs
Suit against five former agents with the State Bureau of Investigation, filed on June 28, 2011
Sample discovery motion drafted by Elizabeth Hambourger. Please contact Sarah Rackley Olson for copies of the exhibits included in this motion.
Order recusing Judge Haigwood from hearing matters raised in the Defendant’s MAR. The order includes the finding of fact that the Defendant raised a claim of prosecutorial misconduct related to forensic testing by the SBI and that the claim concerning undue prosecutorial influence over SBI agents where the Defendant asserts that Judge Haigwood could possibly be a witness places Judge Haigwood (a former elected District Attorney) in a position where his impartiality may reasonably be questioned.
2012 Supplement to MAR that addresses implications of false and misleading testimony by former SBI Agent Duane Deaver.
- Order of Dismissal with Prejudice – 2011 Superior Court order dismissing the charge of first degree murder with prejudice where forensic evidence was destroyed prior to the defense having the opportunity to examine it, despite defendant’s filing of a motion to preserve evidence. The Court found that material and favorable evidence to the defendant was intentionally destroyed and that the defendant suffered irreparable prejudice as a result of the violation of his constitutional and statutory rights.
- Court of Appeals decision – reverses the trial court’s order granting the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Vacates trial court’s order imposing discovery sanctions against the State.
- Order Allowing Testing and Inspection of Firearms Evidence and to Transport Evidence to Defense Expert
Order granted in 2009, filed under seal until case was resolved.
Sample motion by Buddy Connor for defense testing of evidence, as well as testing procedures, bench notes, and complete results of testing performed by the state.
2013 motion to be used for independent testing or re-testing of toxicology evidence.
Sample Notice of Objection pursuant to N.C.G.S. 90-95(g) and 90-95(g1) to introduction into evidence of chain of custody statement and lab reports without further authentication and testimony of the analyst.
2015 motion that can used for preservation of evidence in cases involving forensic evidence.
Motion to produce records related to firearms examinations, videotape evidence, latent or trace evidence, and DNA analysis.
2008 order granting the defendant requested discovery regarding SBI data and testing procedures.
Sample motion provided by Buddy Connor requesting SBI testing procedures and underlying data that have not been turned over despite a previous court order.
Sample Order drafted by Buddy Connor
Sample Order drafted by Buddy Connor requiring law enforcement officers to turn over all notes, evidence, and materials related to the investigation of the case to the prosecution and certify that all such materials have been turned over.
Sample motion by Buddy Connor
Sample discovery motion from Feb. 2011 requesting expanded discovery in light of revelations of the SBI’s practice of misstating test results and withholding exculpatory evidence.
Sample discovery motion from murder, AWDWIKISI, and arson case.
- Discovery Procedure NC Gen Stat 15A-902
- Disclosure by the State – Information subject to disclosure NC Gen Stat 15A-903
- Disclosure by the State – Information not subject to disclosure NC Gen Stat 15A-904
- Disclosure by the Defendant – Information subject to disclosure NC Gen Stat 15A-905
- Disclosure by the Defendant – Certain evidence not subject to disclosure NC Gen Stat 15A-906
- Continuing Duty to Disclose NC Gen Stat 15A-907
- Forensic analysis admissible as evidence NC Gen Stat 8-58.20
- Preservation of biological evidence NC Gen Stat 15A-268
Rules of Evidence – Opinions and Expert Testimony
- Rule 701 – Opinion testimony by lay witness NC Gen Stat 8C-701
- Rule 702 – Testimony by experts NC Gen Stat 8C-702
- Rule 703 – Bases of opinion testimony by experts NC Gen Stat 8C-703
- Rule 704 – Opinion on ultimate issue NC Gen Stat 8C-704
- Rule 705 – Disclosure of facts or data underlying expert opinion NC Gen Stat 8C-705
- Rule 706 – Court Appointed Experts NC Gen Stat 8C-706
Extends the time for local forensic science labs (other than the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory) to become accredited from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2016.
Section 6 of this law extends the time for local forensic science labs (other than the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory) to become accredited from October 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013. Section 6.1 clarifies which State Crime Laboratory employees are required to become certified.
Signed into law by Governor Beverly Perdue on March 31, 2011. Sections 1-5 and 7-11 became effective when the act became law. Section 6 (Ombudsman position) becomes effective on July 1, 2011.
Foundations of Forensics in the News
- Biden’s Science Adviser Pick Could Advance Justice Reforms, by Sameer Rao, Law360, 2/21/2021
- Innocence Project Calls on Department of Justice to Retract Statement on PCAST Report, Innocence Project, 2/19/2021
- The Trump DOJ Snuck In One Last Effort to Push Junk Science in Court, by Maneka Sinha, Slate, 2/4/2021
- This Scientist Helped Free the Innocent Using DNA. Now Biden Wants Him in the Cabinet., by Eli Hager, The Marshall Project, 1/26/2021
- California lawmaker introduces bill to change expert testimony, forensic evidence legal standards, by Cassie Maas, Jurist, 1/25/2021
- Will Bringing Science Back to the White House Reinvigorate Forensics Reform?, by Jordan Smith, The Intercept, 1/22/2021
- The Biden Administration Must Put The Science Back Into Forensic Science, by Sunita Sah, MD PhD, Forbes, 1/22/2021
- He Did Not Commit the Crime. Yet He Served 44 Years in Prison., by Jason Flom, Esquire, 10/30/2020