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NAS report to be 'force of change in forensic field'

February 09, 2009

A highly anticipated report by a National Academy of Sciences committee on the forensic sciences is expected to be a sweeping critique of evidence used by police and prosecutors to convict defendants and likely will include controversial recommendations that would substantially change the field, according to a newspaper report.

A Feb. 4 article in The New York Times, titled “Science Found Wanting in Nation’s Crime Labs,” in which people who have seen drafts of the report are quoted, said forensic evidence “often is the product of shoddy scientific practices that should be upgraded and standardized.”

On April 3-4, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University will issue the first major response to the report when it convenes an international body of experts from the fields of forensic science, criminalistics and scientific evidence to discuss, “Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond.” Sponsored by the College’s Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology, The National Judicial College, and the ABA Sections of Science & Technology Law and Criminal Justice, the conference ( will be held in Armstrong Hall on the ASU campus in Tempe, Arizona.

Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the College of Law, called the impending report “a blockbuster that will completely change the legal landscape regarding forensic evidence.

“I am therefore very pleased that the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law will be hosting this important gathering of scholars, judges, scientists and lawyers to discuss the report's implications,” Berman said.

In his interview with Times reporter Solomon Moore, Michael Saks, Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, commented on how the report likely will be used by practitioners in the field.  

“This is not a judicial ruling; it is not a law,” said Saks, a conference co-chairman and expert in issues relating to forensic identification and erroneous convictions connected to forensic science. “But it will be used by others who will make law or will argue cases,”  

The report is expected to be used by defense attorneys seeking to challenge forensic procedures and expert witnesses in court, and judges could use its findings to raise the bar for admissibility of certain types of forensic evidence, as well as to rein in exaggerated expert testimony, according to Moore’s article.

The NAS committee’s recommendations also may result in federal forensic reform, from the establishment of a federal agency to finance research and training and promote universal standards in forensic science, to tougher regulation of crime laboratories, according to The New York Times.

“Experts around the country believe that this report will have a profound impact on the practice and presentation of the non-DNA forensic sciences," said Jay Koehler, a professor at the College of Law and conference co-chairman who conducts extensive research in the area of how jurors, attorneys and experts think about scientific and statistical evidence.

The conference has attracted the most prominent people in the field, including the NAS committee’s co-chairmen, Harry T. Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge and Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Constantine Gatsonis, Professor of Medical Science (Biostatistics), and Founding Director of the Center for Statistical Sciences at Brown University. Other notable experts on the program include Henry Lee, Chief Emeritus of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory and Founder of the University of New Haven’s Forensic Science Program, Peter Neufeld, Co-director of The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, U.S. courts of appeals judges, state supreme court justices, and the country’s top teachers and scholars of evidence law.

The conference is a must for practitioners who produce, use or evaluate forensic science evidence, including prosecutors, public defenders, private attorneys, forensic scientists, technicians and laboratory managers, criminalistics, law professors and students and teachers of criminal justice and evidence.

For more information and to register, go to

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law