Senator Leahy Introduces Forensic Science Reform bill

Senator Leahy Introduces Forensic Science Reform bill
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced on January 25 S. 132, the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act. While the bill has many components, one of the most important is the creation of the Office of Forensic Science (OFS) and a Forensic Science Board.

The  press release from Leahy's office announcing the bill -- "Leahy Proposes Landmark Forensics Reform Legislation" -- quotes Leahy as saying, "Everyone recognizes the need for forensic evidence that is accurate and reliable," and says the bill would "strengthen and improve the quality of forensic evidence routinely used in the criminal justice system." 

The bill is largely seen as a response to the 2009 National Academies’ report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, yet differs in an important way. While the "Strengthening Forensic Science" report says Office of Forensic Science (or its equivalent) "must be an independent federal agency," Leahy's legislation places OFS in the Department of Justice (DOJ) but gives NIST the authority to appoint the deputy director. Part of the reason for placing OFS in DOJ is believed to be the difficulty of creating a new independent agency in this fiscal environment.

The ASA Board endorsed the Strengthening Forensic Science report at its April 2010 meeting. The Board's statement noted "Statisticians have played an important role in this constructive criticism and can play an important role in the [forensic science] reform" and listed six "sound statistical practices [] essential for the proposed institute to achieve its mission." In the ASA press release on the Strengthening Forensic Science endorsement, 2010 ASA President Sastry Pantula says, "We can continue to play an important role in the reforms urged by the National Academies. Statisticians can make vital contributions toward establishing measurement protocols, quantifying uncertainty, designing experiments for testing new protocols or methodologies, and analyzing data from such experiments."

The Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) -- chaired by Senator Leahy-- issued a draft legislation last spring with the OFS in DOJ. 2009 ASA President Sally Morton commented on the outline in a June 10 letter commending SJC for acting on the Strengthening Forensic Science report but stating, "Housing OFS and FSC within the Department of Justice would not meet the criteria of independence specified in Strengthening Forensic Science and our supporting statement." Morton also commented on several other aspects of the draft outline.

If you have comments on Leahy's legislation, please send them to me: pierson@amstat.org. You could also comment below.

If you have an interest in statistical aspects of forensic science (and are an ASA member), consider joining the Forensic Science group in the ASA Community (alternatively search "Forensic Science" at http://community.amstat.org.) You can find the documents linked above at the Forensic Science site along with an advance copy of the bill.

Finally, I invite ASA Members to join the Science Policy Group in the ASA Community. I will send members of this group updates on ASA science policy actions, notifications of new blogs, and ask for input on ASA science policy activities.
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