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Forensic Science: The Nexus of Science and the Law

Organized by Stephen E. Fienberg, Margaret A. Berger, David Donoho, Donald Kennedy, Roger Kahn, and Douglas H. Ubelaker

November 16-18, 2005
Washington, DC

Meeting Overview:
The Sackler Colloquium on Forensic Science: The Nexus of Science and the Law was held on November 16-18, 2005. This Colloquium reviewed the science in forensic science from multiple perspectives: the perspective of government forensic laboratories, the basic science underlying forensic technologies, and, of course, from the perspective of the courts, which ultimately must judge what scientific evidence should be admitted.

The Supreme Court's Daubert standard has generated some ambiguity for the legal community, but the Court did list several criteria for qualifying expert testimony: peer review, error rate, adequate testing, regular standards and techniques, and general acceptance. The controversy over a recent federal court ruling on fingerprint evidence has reignited some old challenges to "forensic science."

The Colloquium used the term "forensic science" to mean the use of science evidence in legal evidentiary contexts. This is a far broader definition than that adopted by "forensic" practitioners, but much of the focus is nonetheless on traditional forensic tools, those that are gaining currency, and those that might in the future. The criminal justice system and the courts in particular, are slow to adopt new scientific procedures. The acceptance of DNA evidence and the standardization of laboratory procedures for DNA analysis eventually broke through that barrier, well after there was scientific proof of their reliability. But there were numerous questions that had to be answered about using DNA evidence in a forensic context that never had to be considered by scientists engaged in DNA research, issues such as contamination, degradation, and a number of statistical issues. Two NRC Committees issued reports on the topic and they raised issues such as the uniqueness of an individual DNA profile, sample consumption, and a defendant's right to retesting. Some of these questions turned out to cause no problems, but they had to be asked and answered, and most of the courts, considering what a revolutionary form of evidence this was, responded fairly quickly. At issue now is the reliability of other forensic science methods as well as how the courts should respond to novel scientific evidence.

Video Available

 

Stephen E. Fienberg, Carnegie Mellon University, Chair
 Opening Remarks

Session I: Scientific Evidence and the Law

 Legal Standards for Expert Testimony
Shirley S. Abrahamson, Chief Justice, State of Wisconsin, Supreme Court

Discussion
 Margaret Berger, Brooklyn Law School

Discussion
Joel Cohen, Rockefeller University

Discussion
 Donald Kennedy, Stanford University

Discussion
 Ronald L. Singer, Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office

Session II: DNA Fingerprinting and Related Genetics Advances: From the Laboratory to the Crime Scene to the Courts I
Donald Kennedy, Stanford University, Chair

 Advances in Population Genetics: The Science and Its Uses
Kathryn Roeder, Carnegie Mellon University

 Early DNA Fingerprinting Techniques and Scientific Issues
James Crow, University of Wisconsin, Madison

 Early DNA Fingerprinting Techniques and Legal Acceptance
David Kaye, Arizona State University

Session III: DNA Fingerprinting and Related Genomics Advances: From the Laboratory to the Crime Science to the Courts II
Margaret Berger, Brooklyn Law School, Chair

 Laboratory Testing of DNA for Forensic Use: Protocols, Quality Assurance, Training and Accreditation Issues
Bruce Budowle, FBI

Discussion
 Roger Kahn, Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office

Discussion
 David Faigman, Hastings College of Law, University of California, San Francisco

Session IV: Expert Scientific Evidence and Testimony
David Donoho, Stanford University, Chair

 The Evaluation and Interpretation of Scientific Evidence
Colin Aitken, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

 Illusions of Memory and Loss of Justice
Elizabeth Loftus, University of California, Irvine

 Synchronization of the Acoustic Evidence in the Assassination of President Kennedy
Richard L. Garwin, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center

Session V: Identification Through Biometrics I
Margaret Berger, Brooklyn Law School, Chair

 A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification
Simon Cole, University of California, Irvine

 Uniqueness of Fingerprints
Anil Jain, Michigan State University

 Contrasting Fingerprint Evidence (Past and Future) with DNA Profiling from a Legal Perspective
Jennifer Mnookin, University of California, Los Angeles

Session VI: Identification Through Biometrics II
Roger Kahn, Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, Chair

 Iris Scanning for Human ID
Richard Wildes, York University

 Scientific Validation of Human ID Technologies
Jonathon Phillips, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Discussion
David Donoho, Stanford University

Discussion
 David Faigman, Hastings College of Law, University of California, San Francisco

Session VII: Emerging Areas of Forensic Science
Douglas H. Ubelaker, Smithsonian Institution, Stephen E. Fienberg, Carnegie Mellon University, Chair

 Linguistics and the Science Behind Speaker Identification
Joseph P. Campbell, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

The Validity of Digital Photographic Evidence
William Freeman, MIT

 New Approaches to Forensic Issues in Engineering Sciences
Thomas L. Bohan, MTC Forensics

 Forensic Toxicology
Michael A. Peat, Editor, Journal of Forensic Sciences

Discussion and Isolation of Key Themes and Topics
Stephen E. Fienberg, Carnegie Mellon University, David Donoho, Stanford University, Chair

 Roger Kahn, Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office

 Douglas H. Ubelaker, Smithsonian Institution

 David Faigman, Hastings College of Law, University of California, San Francisco

Closing Remarks
 Stephen E. Fienberg, Carnegie Mellon University

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