Forensic Science

About | Priorities | Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports (ULTRs) | Testimony Monitoring  
Quality Management System Documents | Supplemental Guidance on Criminal Discovery | Needs Assessment
Forensic Laboratory Needs Technical Working Group | Scientific and Research Integrity Policy and Code of Professional Responsibility

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 assist in the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of crime or absolve an innocent person from suspicion. 

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, handwriting analysis, 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 maintains forensic laboratories 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.  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 to advance the practice and use of forensic science by the broader community.

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.

Priorities

  1. Facilitating coordination and collaboration on forensic science within the Department, across the federal government, and with state, local, and tribal entities.
  2. Increasing the capacity of forensic service providers so that evidence can be processed quickly and investigations can be concluded without delay.
  3. Improving the reliability of forensic analysis to enable examiners to report results with increased specificity and certainty.

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 ULTR documents, are designed to provide guidance on the submission of scientific statements by the Department’s forensic examiners when drafting reports or testifying.

For more information and to access approved ULTR documents, please visit the Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports Page

Testimony Monitoring

Testimony monitoring is a quality assurance mechanism to ensure testimony is consistent with mandatory laboratory policies and procedures, properly qualified and appropriately communicated, and in conformity with any applicable ULTR

Testimony Monitoring Policy

Quality Management System Documents

The Department posts quality management system documents online to promote the scientific value of transparency and enhance knowledge of Department forensic policies and practices by the stakeholders.  These documents include quality assurance measures, laboratory policies, and standard operating procedures for testing and analysis, and summaries of internal validation studies for forensic methods and techniques that are currently used by Department labs.

FBI Quality Management System Documents

DEA Quality Management System Documents

ATF Quality Management System Documents

Supplemental Guidance on Criminal Discovery

In January 2017, the Department issued Supplemental Guidance for Prosecutors Regarding Criminal Discovery Involving Forensic Evidence.  The Supplemental Guidance provided new Department-wide guidance on criminal discovery in cases with forensic evidence.   The guidance has been incorporated into the U.S. Attorneys Manual (USAM) at section 9-5.003 and assists prosecutors in meeting their discovery obligations regarding forensic evidence and experts so that defendants have a fair opportunity to understand the evidence that could be used against them.

USAM § 9-5.003

Needs Assessment

The Department is conducting a needs assessment of forensic laboratories that examines workload, backlog, personnel and equipment needs of public crime laboratories and examiners and the resources and needs of academic forensic science and nontraditional crime laboratory disciplines.  The Department has operationalized the needs assessment by holding a series of listening sessions with stakeholders from fall 2017 to early 2018 and conducting special topic listening sessions to address topics including violent crime, the opioid epidemic, and system-based approaches to efficiency and capacity.  In addition to the listening sessions, the Department is reviewing data collected through various instruments and ongoing research projects.  The needs assessment will meet the mandate of Section 16 of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016, and the Department anticipates issuing a report to Congress by the end of 2018. 

Section 16 of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016

Forensic Laboratory Needs Technical Working Group

The Department has created a working group made up of state and local forensic science practitioners and a small number of researchers that will advance coordination and collaboration. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), in partnership with the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence at RTI International, has formed the Forensic Laboratory Needs – Technology Working Group (FLN-TWG). The FLN-TWG will support NIJ’s mission to improve knowledge and understanding of the forensic technology needs of federal, state, local, and tribal forensic practitioners and crime laboratories.  In forming the FLN-TWG, the Department relied on feedback from forensic science stakeholders to develop a means to ensure state, local, and tribal forensic needs would be considered during Department decision-making.

FLN-TWG Information

Scientific and Research Integrity Policy and Code of Professional Responsibility

Department personnel – including officials, attorneys, law enforcement agents and employees engaged in scientific disciplines rely upon and present evidence founded in fact and veracity.  This is particularly critical in the forensic science arena, where the credibility of the evidence often depends upon the integrity of the handlers, examiners, experts, and presenters of that evidence.  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

Updated September 25, 2018

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