Ranking Member Johnson Introduces Forensic Science Legislation

Jul 13, 2012

(Washington, DC) - Yesterday, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced H.R. 6106 to help prevent wrongful convictions by bringing reliable, science-based standards to forensic evidence.

The legislation, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012, comes amid growing concerns nationally that many criminal justice proceedings use evidence developed through flawed forensic work.  Ms. Johnson’s bill would strengthen forensic science and standards, yielding evidence that judges, prosecutors, defendants, and juries can fully trust.

“We need to ensure that forensic science is based on strong scientific methodologies.  After all, forensic science is literally a life and death issue.  More and more, it is forensic evidence that is used to send people to prison, and in some cases to death row.  Wrongful convictions mar the reputation of our justice system.  We need to be certain that the evidence being used is based on sound science so that the right people are sent away, namely the guilty people who have committed vicious crimes,” said Ms. Johnson.

She added, “To ensure justice is being served, we want law enforcement and forensic practitioners to work alongside scientists and researchers to make sure that forensic evidence stands up to scientific rigor.  Our research agencies NSF and NIST are well-positioned to bring the science into forensic science.”

The National Academy of Sciences, the Innocence Project, the Washington Post, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have all called for strengthened forensic science and standards. 

Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced companion legislation in the Senate today.

The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012 would:

  • Require standards development: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be directed to develop forensic science standards, in consultation with the standards development organizations and other stakeholders. NIST could establish and solicit advice from discipline-specific expert working groups to identify standards development priorities and opportunities.
  • Implement uniform standards: A Forensic Science Advisory Committee, chaired by the Director of NIST and the Attorney General, would be established to implement new science-based standards. The Advisory Committee, comprised of research scientists, forensic science practitioners, and members of the legal and law enforcement communities, would make recommendations to the Attorney General on adoption of standards. The Attorney General would direct the standards’ implementation in Federal forensic science laboratories and would encourage adoption in non-Federal laboratories as a condition of Federal funding or for inclusion in national databases.
  • Promote research: The bill would establish a National Forensic Science Coordinating Office, housed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), to develop a research strategy and roadmap and to support the implementation of that roadmap across relevant Federal agencies.  NSF  would establish a forensic science grant program to award funding in areas specifically identified by the research strategy. NSF would be directed to award two grants to create forensic science research centers to conduct research, build relationships with forensic practitioners, and educate students. All agencies with equities in forensic science would be encouraged to stimulate innovative and creative solutions to satisfy the research needs and priorities identified in the research strategy.

Ranking Member of the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), and Ranking Member of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee, Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) are original cosponsors of the bill.

You can view H.R. 6106 here.