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Archive for September, 2009

Strengthening Forensic Science: An Update

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Strengthening Forensic Science: An Update
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee reacted to the National Academies of Sciences report released earlier this year with a Committee Hearing focusing on ways to address the problems in crime labs such as inadequate resources and support, fragmented regulations of the labs and practicioners, and the lack of strong scientific research. In this report, DNA typing analytical methods were presented as scientifically validated before even being used for criminal investigation.

The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), opened the hearing by acknowledging the importance of the scientific advancements developed through forensics, including the ability to demonstrate criminal guilt or exonerate those who are innocent of crimes. “We need to do all we can to ensure that forensic science rises to the highest scientific standards and has the maximum possible reliability,” Senator Leahy said.

The Senator demonstrated the current severity of the problems in the field by referring to the Cameron Todd Willingham case—a Texas man put to death in 2004 based on forensic evidence and interpretation of alleged arson indicators that have since been found to be without merit. Leahy also referenced the recent Supreme Court decision of Melendez-Diaz vs. MA, which found that forensic analysts must be subject to cross-examination in court, instead of just submitting the reports as evidence. The suggestion is that cross-examination of the forensic examiners may bring to light any practices that do not meet strict standards.

Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) explained that many flaws in forensic science have been exposed by DNA testing, the gold standard of forensic tests. Feingold further stated that despite the defects in other scientific disciplines, jurors still place unwarranted trust in forensic evidence in the courtroom, even when not reliable. This phenomenon is often referred to as the “CSI effect,” based on the television series whose characters solve crimes in less than an hour with science presented as infallible.

While the Senate Judiciary Committee works to investigate the recommendations of the NAS report and determine next steps, the members agreed that at the least, standardization of methods, protocols and reporting should be made a national priority.

Forensics Resource Feature: Museum of Crime & Punishment

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The National Museum on Crime and Punishment located in Washington, DC, offers visitors a memorable insight into the historical and current issues of crime and its consequences, all in an interactive and entertaining venue. The museum’s homepage claims, “It’s so much fun, it’s a crime”—speaks to its focus on engaging visitors.

The museum’s five galleries include over 100 interactive exhibits and occupy 25,000 square feet on 3 floors. The galleries include: History of Crime; Punishment—A Consequence to Crime; Crime Fighting; CSI Experience; and America’s Most Wanted. Good Morning America described the museum as a “a must see for CSI fans.”

Regularly scheduled events include CSI Lab Workshops and Book Clubs. Filming for the television series, “America’s Most Wanted” takes place in the studio within the museum. Visitors can try to crack a safe, hack into a computer, or visit a full-scale model police station complete with jail cell and lethal injection chamber. If it’s an adrenalin rush a visitor seeks, they need only go to the high-speed police chase stimulators and an FBI shooting range. The museum’s Crime Library has even greater resources into specific topics such as Artifacts, Criminal Law, Terrorism, Forensics/Investigations, Murder, Justice System, Imprisonment, Execution, Organized Crime, Hate Crimes, and War Crimes. To learn more, visit their Forensic Blog.

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