FORENSIC SCIENCE

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FORENSIC SCIENCE

About

Forensic science is a critical element of the criminal justice system.  Forensic scientists examine and analyze evidence from crime scenes and elsewhere to develop objective findings that can absolve an innocent person from suspicion or assist in the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of crime. 

Common forensic science laboratory disciplines include forensic molecular biology (DNA), forensic chemistry, trace evidence examination (hairs and fibers, paints and polymers, glass, soil, etc.), latent fingerprint examination, firearms and toolmarks examination, questioned documents examination, fire and explosives examinations, forensic toxicology, and digital evidence.  Some forensic disciplines practiced outside forensic laboratories include forensic pathology, forensic nursing, forensic psychiatry, forensic entomology, and forensic engineering.  Practitioners of these disciplines are most often found in medical examiner or coroner offices, in universities, or in private practices. 

The Department of Justice forensic laboratories include those at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Department, through the National Institute of Justice, is a sponsor of cutting-edge research and its labs serve as a model for government forensic agencies at the federal, state and local levels.  The Department strives to set the global standard for excellence in forensic science, and is always striving to be better.

This website contains information of value to the forensic science community, as well as stakeholders engaged in the criminal justice system with interests in forensic science. 

SCIENTIFIC AND RESEARCH INTEGRITY POLICY AND Code of Professional Responsibility for the Practice of Forensic Science

Department personnel – including officials, attorneys, law enforcement agents and employees engaged in scientific disciplines must pursue, rely upon and present evidence that is well-founded in fact and veracity. This is particularly critical in the forensic science arena, where the credibility of the evidence often relies upon the integrity of its handlers, examiners, experts and presenters. These documents outline the Department’s policy on scientific research and integrity and its code of professional responsibility for the practice of forensic science.

Scientific Research and Integrity Policy

Code of Professional Responsibility for the Practice of Forensic Science

Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports (ULTRs)

The Department is in the process of developing guidance documents governing the testimony and reports of its forensic experts.  These documents, known as “Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports,” or ULTRs, are designed to clarify what scientific statements the Department’s forensic experts may – and may not – make when drafting lab reports or testifying in court.  Once finalized, they will apply to all Department forensic experts, including those at ATF, DEA, and FBI.

In summer 2016, the Department released for public comment two batches (#1, #2) of draft ULTRs, along with supporting documentation.  The public comment period is now closed, although the documents remain online for interested parties.  Based on the comments received, the Department is revising the draft ULTRs and plans to issue additional material in the future. 

 

Forensic Discipline

Documents

Anthropology

(e.g., skeletal remains)

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment [BAJ1] 

Supporting Documentation

 

Explosives Chemistry

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Explosives and Hazardous Devices

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

General Chemistry

(e.g., drugs, bank dye chemicals, pepper sprays)

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Geology

(e.g., soil, rock fragments)

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Glass

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Footwear and Tire Impressions

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Latent Prints

(e.g., hand or palm prints found at a crime scene)

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Hair Examination

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Handwriting

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Metallurgy

(e.g., metals, especially in accident reconstruction)

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Paints and Polymers

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Serology

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Textile Fiber

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Toxicology

Draft published June 3, 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

Y Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Typing

Draft published July [x], 2016:

ULTR Initial Draft for Public Comment

Supporting Documentation

 

 

 


 [BAJ1]These are linked to the postings on DOJ’s website, although could also link to regulations.gov. 

 

FORENSIC SCIENCE DISCIPLINE REVIEW OF TESTIMONY

The goal of the Forensic Science Discipline Review (FSDR) is to advance the use of forensic science in the courtroom by understanding its use in recent cases and to facilitate any necessary steps to ensure that expert forensic testimony is consistent with scientific principles and just outcomes. In order to accomplish this goal, the Department is planning a Department-level review of forensic testimony by Department personnel beginning with an examination of FBI testimony.  The Department is undertaking this review because it is good management to conduct macro-level program reviews and not because of known or suspected problems with particular forensic science disciplines.

The comment period for the draft methodology closed on August 1, 2016.


Forensic Science Discipline Review Draft Methodology Response to Comments

Forensic Science Discipline Review Statisticians Roundtable 

Forensic Science Discipline Review Draft Methodology

Forensic Science Discipline Review Framework

NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FORENSIC SCIENCE

In 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) established the National Commission on Forensic Science, in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science. For more information visit the Commission’s website