07.13.12

Leahy To Chair Hearing On Forensic Science Reform Proposals

Judiciary Committee To Hold Third Hearing On Key Criminal Justice Issue

WASHINGTON (July 13, 2012) – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on July 18 to hear testimony about ongoing efforts to ensure that forensic evidence gathered in the criminal justice system is reliable, fair, and accurate, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has announced.

It will be the Committee’s third hearing on this issue in recent years. Leahy, a former prosecutor, has made improving forensic science a top priority and introduced legislation at the beginning of the Congress aimed at ensuring the highest scientific credibility of forensic evidence. The Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act would, among other key reforms, require the accreditation of forensic science laboratories and the certification of forensic science professionals working in laboratories that receive federal funding.

“Forensic science reform is a pressing criminal justice issue,” said Leahy. “Ensuring the accurate collection, analysis, and use of forensic evidence in the criminal justice system is paramount in preventing false convictions of the innocent, and in using  reliable forensic evidence to convict the guilty.”

In February 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a report identifying significant problems within the field of forensic science.  Leahy chaired two Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in the last Congress focusing on the report’s findings.  Through these hearings, the Committee heard testimony from experts including Dr. Eric Buel, the Director of the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, about the growing need to make improvements to forensic science.  Forensic science plays a critical role in the investigation and prosecution of criminals.

The Leahy-authored legislation introduced last year follows an intensive fact-finding and consensus-building process and seeks to find ways to strengthen research and practice in the forensic science.  The legislation also seeks to address the need for reliable and validated standards for forensic evidence testing and analysis.  Among other things, the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act will:

  • Establish an Office of Forensic Science within the Department of Justice to make determinations about priorities, standards and structure, and to implement programs established by the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act;
  • Establish a Forensic Science Board comprised of scientists, forensic science practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other stakeholders to develop recommendations for research priorities, standards, and best practices;
  • Establish Committees of scientists to be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which will examine individual forensic science disciplines to determine research needs and help establish standards;
  • Require that all forensic science laboratories receiving federal funding be accredited according to rigorous standards set by the Forensic Science Board and the Office of Forensic Science, and require that forensic practitioners in those laboratories meet basic proficiency, education and training requirements for certification;
  • Promote foundational and innovative peer-reviewed scientific research that will strengthen the forensic sciences.

The text of the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act is available online.

# # # # #

For Planning Purposes
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Contact: 202-224-7703

 

NOTICE OF FULL COMMITTEE HEARING - The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing on “Improving Forensic Science in the Criminal Justice System” for Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 10:00 a.m., in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

 

# # # # #