Can Congress Legislate Forensic Science?


The National Academy of Sciences forensic science study says viewers of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, even judges and lawyers, are under the false impression that the techniques on the show are science at work. National Public Radio says the committee found that while some forensic evidence, like DNA, is top-notch, other evidence, such as fingerprints, is not nearly so reliable. The NAS panel says the U.S. should standardize tests and certify forensics experts. It wants to train technicians and supervise crime labs, and to separate the science in a crime scene investigation from the police work. The committee wants a new federal agency that would oversee this, but Congress might not want to spend the money to create a new agency, and legislators might have trouble legislating local police practices from Washington.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former prosecutor who is now at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says law enforcement is so diverse that it would be hard for Congress to enforce forensic standards at a grass-roots level. What works for a two-man police force might not work in a big city. O’Donnell does credit the report with getting a conversation going about forensic evidence and how to make it more scientific.

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