ASA President Addresses Forensic Science Concerns

It is vital that all those involved in the law—from police to lawyers—closely work with forensic scientists and statisticians to understand how evidence should be collected, analyzed, and understood, according to ASA President Lisa LaVange. “Weak forensic science,” she warns, has “large financial and grave societal costs.”

Her comments are directed to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, following his appearance at a February American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference in Seattle to announce new Department of Justice (DOJ) policies on forensic science. In a letter to Rosenstein, LaVange noted proposed cuts to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s budget would set back efforts to “close the many gaps” that have been identified in forensic science.

“We currently lack the scientific knowledge required for a forensic science examiner to quantify the strength of evidence provided by observed correspondences between crime scene evidence and a suspect or an item associated with the suspect,” she said. “This is true for finger prints, dental imprints, firearm markings, and other types of evidence.”

Statisticians, she said—noting the 2010 ASA Board statement on forensic science—are essential to establishing the rigor and strength of forensic science through “establishing measurement protocols, quantifying uncertainty, designing experiments for testing new protocols or methodologies, and analyzing data from such experiments.” But only the DOJ can bring statisticians, forensic scientists, law enforcement, and legal professionals together to solve the complex, multifaceted problems in forensic science.

Karen Kafadar, chair of the ASA’s Advisory Committee on Forensic Science, and Hal S. Stern, vice chair of the ASA Advisory Committee on Forensic Science, have also expressed their concern about the DOJ’s lack of active engagement with the forensic science community in light of the need for forensic science reform.