Rockefeller Bill Will Reform Forensics

Legislation Comes Amid Renewed Scrutiny of Past Criminal Cases

July 12, 2012

Feature Image: 2 Oversight&InvestigationsWASHINGTON, D.C.— Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today introduced legislation to help prevent wrongful convictions by bringing reliable, science-based standards to forensic evidence.

The legislation, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012, comes amid growing concerns nationally that many criminal justice proceedings use evidence developed through flawed forensic work.  Rockefeller’s bill would strengthen forensic science and standards, yielding evidence that judges, prosecutors, defendants, and juries can fully trust.

“This week’s announcement that thousands of criminal convictions may have been based on flawed hair and fiber evidence is deeply disturbing,” said Rockefeller.   “Even one innocent person wrongfully convicted is too many.  My bill would help fix this problem, and strengthen our cherished values of truth and justice.  It would bring twenty-first century advancements in technology and testing to forensic science.  Collaboration between our scientists and our criminal justice system is the only way to put our evidence standards on a solid scientific footing, so that we can successfully convict criminals and protect the innocent.”

The National Academy of Sciences, the Innocence Project, the Washington Post, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have all called for strengthened forensic science and standards.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, today introduced companion legislation in the House. 

The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012 would:

  • Require standards development: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be directed to develop forensic science standards, in consultation with the standards development organizations and other stakeholders. NIST could establish and solicit advice from discipline-specific expert working groups to identify standards development priorities and opportunities.
  • Implement uniform standards: A Forensic Science Advisory Committee, chaired by the Director of NIST and the Attorney General, would be established to implement new science-based standards. The Advisory Committee, comprised of research scientists, forensic science practitioners, and members of the legal and law enforcement communities, would make recommendations to the Attorney General on adoption of standards. The Attorney General would direct the standards’ implementation in Federal forensic science laboratories and would encourage adoption in non-Federal laboratories as a condition of Federal funding or for inclusion in national databases.
  • Promote research: The bill would establish a National Forensic Science Coordinating Office, housed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), to develop a research strategy and roadmap and to support the implementation of that roadmap across relevant Federal agencies.  NSF would establish a forensic science grant program to award funding in areas specifically identified by the research strategy. NSF would be directed to award two grants to create forensic science research centers to conduct research, build relationships with forensic practitioners, and educate students. All agencies with equities in forensic science would be encouraged to stimulate innovative and creative solutions to satisfy the research needs and priorities identified in the research strategy.