Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
Dallas, Texas
February 18, 2004

(Please Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Good afternoon.

I am deeply honored to speak here today. It is always an honor to speak to the justice community.

America has never asked for more from the men and women who patrol the streets, prosecute the offenders and uphold the rule of law.

We have been asked to continue our successful fight against crime. And we have been asked to take up the cause of freedom in the war on terror. We have the privilege, the opportunity, and the responsibility to protect the lives and liberty of the American people. This means preventing and punishing the predatory and lawless; detecting, disrupting and deterring those who would harm Americans; and, all the while, honoring the Constitution and the rule of law.

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences has become a critical part of our nation's effort to provide equal protection under the law for every citizen.

Few groups have had as profound an impact on justice as the forensic science community.

The men and women in this room save lives. Your knowledge, your expertise, and your dedication to the truth bring justice to the guilty and a measure of peace to victims.

Forensic science is no longer on the fringes of criminal investigations. Science is solving cases that would otherwise remain unsolved. Science is identifying the guilty with a certainty that protects the innocent at the same time.

Forensic science plays no favorites. It cuts through prejudice. It validates truth. And to the extent that it speeds the arrest of criminals, it helps prevent crime, cutting short the careers of habitual offenders.

Over the last three decades, forensic science has made extraordinary advances -- leaping from theory to practice on the cutting-edge of technology. As governor of Missouri, I saw first hand the promise of forensic science technology.

In 1990, I supported the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). As governor, I also approved funding for a DNA profiling system for the Highway Patrol's crime laboratories. Missouri's highways and citizens are safer today, thanks to these advances.

The success of forensic science technology in fighting crime has been so great that it is having a multiplier effect on American's attitudes toward law enforcement. The analyses done by the men and women in this room -- from work in the labs to surveys of crime scenes -- has inspired new appreciation for our justice system.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the percentage of people reporting crimes and cooperating with law enforcement is at historic levels.

In addition, over just the last two years, we have worked with the National Sheriffs Association to add over 8,600 new Neighborhood Watch programs across the country. This would not be possible unless citizens and grassroots groups felt that the justice system is on their side.

A free nation is built on a fundamental trust in the citizen. And our free institutions, in turn, depend on the public's trust in the justice system. Thanks in part to advances in technology, Americans have grown more confident in law enforcement and more cooperative in the battle against crime. That is why the Department of Justice has been so supportive of proven forensic science and seeks to push forward new forensic advances.

As forensic science increases our knowledge of crimes, it allows us to increase the information sharing and coordination between agents and officers, agencies and departments.

The FBI has taken a lead in forging strong alliances with state and local labs.

Information sharing and cooperation have been the driving forces behind the creation the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The National DNA Index now allows 175 participating laboratories from all 50 states, the U.S. Army Laboratory, and the FBI Laboratory. In addition, we have provided 18 countries with CODIS software enabling the exchange of DNA profiles across borders and oceans.

Since 1998, CODIS has aided more than 11,220 investigations and connected more than 8,200 forensic samples with convicted offenders.

I commend the men and women of the nation's forensic science labs -- many of whom are here today -- for working closely with your federal counterparts to make America safer. This Administration understands that many state and local labs are overburdened and that many may not have the full capabilities available at federal facilities. This is why the United States Department of Justice has worked so hard to help provide assistance to state and local labs.

For instance, the Justice Department provided funds to the forensic experts involved in identifying the World Trade Center victims. The Department worked with them to develop protocols and techniques to help identify more quickly those killed on September 11th. These protocols will help us in the future, too, when state, local, and federal experts must work together.

The FBI is also involved in work to increase the capacity of its fingerprint system (IAFIS) and to make it more accessible to state and local law enforcement.

And President Bush has proven his high regard for forensic science to crack old cases and stop the worst offenders.

Last March, the President announced his "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology" Initiative, which seeks to provide $1 billion over five years to use DNA identification to solve crimes and to eliminate the backlogs at state and local labs.

The President's DNA Initiative seeks to provide:

While we have made tremendous strides in using DNA and fingerprints, there are many other areas of forensic expertise we can bring to crime fighting and prevention. DNA work represents just five percent of forensic analysis.

The Washington, D.C.-area sniper case is a good example of the use of multiple forensic disciplines. The snipers terrorized the Washington area, randomly killing innocent victims. Diligent teamwork and tireless investigative research led to the arrest of these criminals. And it is forensic evidence that provided strong circumstantial evidence against them. In addition to DNA, the more traditional fingerprint and firearms identifications and chemical analyses of trace evidence led to their convictions in Virginia courts.

In the spirit of such cooperation, we have been conferring with law enforcement in Columbus, Ohio, to help them in solving the I-270 sniper shootings. In the prosecution of crime and the preservation of life, information sharing and teamwork are critical.

The National Institute of Justice is working to fund research in a number of areas to advance new and old disciplines alike.

For instance, NIJ funding is seeking to:

These are not just promising technologies. They are investments that help fulfill the government's first responsibility: protecting the lives and liberties of the people.

But whether we are using new technologies or old technologies, we cannot rest on our laurels. Simply put, we cannot fulfill our responsibilities or the promise of forensic research unless we ensure the integrity and reliability of the scientific process itself. Inaccurate laboratory results or the use of bad science do not further justice -- they jeopardize it.

A recently released report from the National Research Council recommends the FBI enhance the methods used in the statistical analysis of bullet lead. The FBI commissioned this independent report for precisely this reason: we are constantly seeking the highest possible level of integrity. In the best traditions of science, we welcome objective measures and independent observations in order to improve and advance our methods -- especially when lives are on the line.

Effective quality-assurance programs have to be a part of every laboratory. I am very proud to say that the three major federal laboratories within the Department of Justice family are all accredited in quality assurance and I encourage every laboratory to become so as well. Quality assurance programs combined with newly developing technologies help assure a standard of excellence in our laboratories as our analyses become more precise. Excellence and new-age technologies promote public confidence in our judicial system, and give victims the hope that the criminal acts against them will be vindicated.

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Kellie Greene at a White House Roundtable. On January 18, 1994, Kellie was attacked brutally and raped by an intruder in her apartment.

At the time of her attack, Florida did not analyze DNA in "no suspect" cases, so the DNA from her case sat on a shelf for more than three years. For three years, Kellie Greene lived in fear. She did not know when or where her attacker could strike again.

Finally, the DNA was analyzed and linked to the profile of David William Shaw. It turned out that Shaw was already serving a 25-year sentence for the rape of another woman that had occurred just weeks before his assault on Kellie.

Kellie told me, quote, "It's a very dark place to walk once you've been a victim of crime, especially sexual assault. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to heal, but knowing who committed the crime against you and knowing that that perpetrator, that that rapist, is in prison and not hurting anyone else makes that road a lot easier to travel."

Your work carries the promise of helping people like Kellie Greene live without fear. Your work carries the promise of saving lives. Your work carries the promise of protecting freedom.

At a time when our nation is threatened on so many fronts, this gathering serves as a reminder of what we are fighting to protect. We are fighting to protect the right to communicate new ideas, to persuade our fellow citizens on new courses of action, and to advance peacefully the cause of freedom. This gathering represents everything terrorists fight against.

The war against terror reminds us all what an extraordinary vision founded this nation.

The war on terror has reminded us that there are those who oppose freedom, who abhor tolerance and new ideas, and who distrust this nation's fundamental belief that every life has potential and every life is precious. This shared vision is why we defend the rule of law. It is why we seek to punish the guilty. It is why we wish to take heart when the innocent are exonerated.

Your towering accomplishments -- often beginning with the tiniest molecules of evidence -- have had a profoundly powerful effect: protecting the integrity of the law and vindicating the suffering of victims.

I encourage you to continue to cultivate the ingenuity, the innovation, and the dedication to truth that has so strengthened forensic science, our courts, and the cause of freedom.

Thank you. God bless your pursuit of justice, and God bless America.