Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 advances

Forensic Science reform is a hot topic. With the NIST OSAC efforts and many AAFS talks over the subject, it seems everyone has a solution. Last Congress, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller IV, the Senior Senator from West Virginia a     Democrat introduced his vision. It has been amended over the year as all bills are. It has made it out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee in the Senate. The committees assigned to this bill sent it to the House or Senate as a whole for consideration on April 9, 2014. According to govtack.us, it has 28% chance of being enacted.

 

You can read the current version here:  Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014:

2014-04-15_2207

It is a short 19 page read. The main thrust of the bill is to fund research in forensic science as well as to establish and fund a standards development organization. It will contract with the National Science Foundation to identify “the most critical forensic science disciplines…that require further research to strengthen the scientific foundation in those disciplines.” There will be a stand alone National Forensic Science Coordinating Office (NFSCO). The NFSCO will establish two Forensic Science Research Centers (FSRC) in the US to conduct research and educate. There will also be a Forensic Science Advisory Committee. There is also language recommending the promotion of accreditation and certification.

In the bill, we see the following funding for the FSRC:

Authorization of appropriations

There are authorized to be appropriated to the National Science Foundation to carry out this section—

(1) $37,000,000 for fiscal year 2014;
(2) $40,000,000 for fiscal year 2015;
(3) $43,000,000 for fiscal year 2016;
(4) $46,000,000 for fiscal year 2017; and
(5) $49,000,000 for fiscal year 2018.
For the standards development organization, the following is the slated monies:

Authorization of appropriations

There are authorized to be appropriated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to carry out this section—

(1)$12,000,000 for fiscal year 2014;
(2)$20,000,000 for fiscal year 2015;
(3)$27,000,000 for fiscal year 2016;
(4)$35,000,000 for fiscal year 2017; and
(5)$43,000,000 for fiscal year 2018.
 

photo credit: NIST

“This is a broad call across the entire forensic science community. The forensic science community includes practitioners, research scientists, measurement scientists, accreditation and certification specialists, statisticians, human factors specialists, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.”

-Mark Stolorow, Director of NIST OSAC (April 14, 2014 phone conversation with Justin McShane)

 

 

many positions to fill at the OSAC

There are many positions to fill in the OSAC structure-graphic from John Paul Jones II (NIST)

 

In the past I have frequently compared the state of the modern practice of forensic science to The Wild Wild West including this quote that was featured in the Boston Globe when the Annie Dookhan scandal hit:

[F]orensic science is like the “wild, wild west.” Just like in the bygone days of the wild wild west, in forensic science today there is a lack of the rule of law, some vigilantes, some rough characters who are up to no good who lie, cheat, and steal exist. There is a lack of standards in terms of behavior or process. Life back then was indeed nasty, brutish and short. Back then, just like today, the innocent got swept up in it all. It was a dangerous place to be that Wild Wild West. Being judged (guilty or not guilty or life versus death) by forensic science in America today is a very shaky proposition. It is getting better, but this modern day wild wild west has yet to be tamed.

I was very skeptical with the DOJ/NIST approach to taming this Wild Wild West initially as you can read in this post:

Let the great whitewash begin: The National Forensic Science Commission

I still have grave reservations about the NFSC. I have practically none about the vision of the NIST OSAC.

After attending in-person the 2014 AAFS/NIST news conference, I was fully converted. It is with the OSACs where the nuts and bolts will be handled: the real science. You can read about here:

Why you should be impressed with the NIST OSAC structure: The taming of the Wild Wild West

Well, sign-ups start today as noted below.

It’s like voting. If you don’t vote, then you cannot legitimately complain.

If you don’t put your name in for consideration by the NIST OSAC, then you likewise cannot legitimately complain.

Get involved.

Unlike the NFSC application process, the NIST OSAC process is very streamlined and simple: NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees Membership Application

We will see what the end result of the NIST OSAC efforts are. I am hopeful that it will not be as political as the NFSC. Time will tell. It was also quite clear from the presentation at the 2014 AAFS what I termed in the past as “SWG-OLD” meaning the tendency of the SWGs to be populated by historical people who are anointed into their positions in the SWGs simply by existing on the planet earth for longer than anyone rather than current merit, and the absence of young and emerging leaders in the community. According to the press conference at 2014 AAFS, everyone will have to apply.

It is vitally important to note that this is not just for forensic scientists.

At the 2014 AAFS meeting, Mark Stolorow, Director of NIST OSAC, and John Paul Jones II, Assistant Director of NIST OSAC, wanted to make sure that forensic scientists know that there are potentially over 400 positions available for forensic scientists as well as spots for lawyers and judges particularly in Legal Resource Committee as noted below:

Legal Resource Committee

Authority:

Provide input throughout the OSAC on legal issues related to standards

Duties:

  1. Provides guidance about the legal ramifications of forensic science standards; specific items will include the meaningful presentation of forensic science results to the legal system
  2. Participates and consults with SACs or subcommittees as needed to address legal issues
  3. Observes work in progress to identify areas with legal ramifications
  4. Reviews and provides legal perspective relative to standards and guidelines submitted to SACs and/or FSSB for approval including impact of expert testimony and admissibility issues
  5. Provides guidance to subcommittees on the development of standards (e.g. admissibility review, potential Brady issues)
  6. Adopts a Professional Code of Ethical Conduct for the presentation of scientific evidence
  7. Evaluates conflict of interest of FSSB, SAC and subcommittee members and makes recommendations to the FSSB
  8. Communicates and liaises with the legal community and related professional organizations

Membership and Leadership:

The Legal Resource Committee will consist of up to ten members representing the legal community, i.e. judges, lawyers (prosecution and defense) and other experts.

The Legal Resource Committee Chair shall perform the following duties:

  1. Provide leadership and preside over meetings
  2. Appoint task group chairs and task group members as needed.

A NIST-DOJ membership committee will select the initial Legal Resource Committee members and chair.

Here is the press release from NIST:

Calling Forensic Scientists: Apply Now to Join the NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees

April 11, 2014

Contact:John Paul Jones
301-975-2782

USIwantYouposterThe application process for positions in the new NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) is now open. NIST is welcoming members of the forensic science, criminal justice and academic research communities to serve as committee and subcommittee members. Applications will be accepted through an online form until 11:59 PM EDT, Sunday, May 11, 2014.

NIST is establishing OSAC to strengthen forensic science by supporting the development of standards and guidelines to ensure accuracy of methods and practices in the nation’s crime laboratories.

OSAC will consist of a Forensic Science Standards Board, three resource committees, five scientific area committees and 23 subcommittees. NIST needs between 500 and 600 subject matter experts representing a balance of experience and perspectives to serve on OSAC. An OSAC term will be three years, although the initial appointees will serve terms of two, three or four years so that subsequent members are appointed on a staggered basis.

Please go to the OSAC Roles and Responsibilities page to review the roles and responsibilities of each membership category of OSAC. Please go to the application form to apply for membership.

For more information about OSAC, go to the main OSAC webpage on the NIST Forensic Science website.

 

Don’t miss out on the NIST OSAC Boat

If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that forensic science as practiced today is not unlike the Wild Wild West. Here is a post on my thoughts and impressions on the NIST OSAC structure.

Why you should be impressed with the NIST OSAC structure: The taming of the Wild Wild West

The analogy used was that of a ship and NIST as a tugboat.

many positions to fill at the OSAC

There are many positions to fill in the OSAC structure-Graphic from John Paul Jones II (NIST)

Applications will soon be accepted by the NIST OSAC structure. There are over 500 positions available. Here is the structure:

OSAC structure

OSAC structure

Here are the various OSAC subcommittees and Committees:

  • Anthropology Subcommittee
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Subcommittee
  • Controlled Substances Subcommittee
  • Disaster Victim Identification Subcommittee
  • DNA Analysis 2 (Interpretation) Subcommittee
  • DNA Analysis 1 (Methods) Subcommittee
  • Dogs and Sensors Subcommittee
  • Facial Identification Subcommittee
  • Firearms & Toolmarks Subcommittee
  • Fire Debris and Explosives Subcommittee
  • Fire Scene and Explosives Scene Subcommittee
  • Footwear & Tire Tread Subcommittee
  • Friction Ridge Subcommittee
  • Geological Materials Subcommittee
  • Gun Shot Residue Subcommittee
  • Human Factors Committee
  • Imaging Technologies Subcommittee
  • Legal Resource Committee
  • Materials/Trace Subcommittee
  • Medical/Legal Death Investigation Subcommittee
  • Odontology Subcommittee
  • Quality Infrastructure Committee
  • Questioned Documents Subcommittee
  • Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Biology/DNA
  • Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis
  • Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Crime Scene/Death Investigation
  • Scientific Area Committee (SAC) IT/Multimedia
  • Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Physics/Pattern
  • Speaker Recognition Subcommittee
  • Toxicology Subcommittee
  • Wildlife Forensics Subcommittee

To receive announcements about OSAC developments, please go to www.nist.gov/forensics and enter your email address in the brown box in the far left column of this page, under “Sign up to receive news about NIST Forensic Science” and click “submit.”

 

Closer to an 0.05 DUI standard–National Safety Council-Alcohol, Drugs and Impairment Division Report 2014

Here is an update here from the National Safety Council-Alcohol, Drugs and Impairment Division. As frequent readers of this blog know, the former National Safety Council (NSC) Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs (COAD) was upgraded by the National Safety Council last year to a full Division within the NSC. Here is the National Safety Council Alcohol, Drugs and Impairment Division (ADID) Report 2014.

At this year’s American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) meeting in Seattle, the ADID passed by simple voice vote a provision that will enable it to study the scientific and policy implications of lowering the per se ethanol level nationwide for those over the age of 21 to 0.05 BAC and BrAC. After the deliberative process, there may be a recommendation from the Division to the NSC that the NSC adopt a recommendation that the national per se DUI ethanol level be reduced for those over age 21 to 0.05 BAC or BrAC. The NTSB recommendation only called for a 0.05 BAC per se level. It is interesting to note that ADID expanded the NTSB recommendation to include recommendation to examine BrAC as well. At least, in their report, ADID acknowledged the difficulties of uncertainty measurement (UM) in BrAC measurement.

It seems that we are destined to a 0.05 national per se level as now it is very likely that in relatively short order (about 1 year) ADID’s voice will be added to the National Transportation Safety Board in calling for the 0.05 per se level. William “Bubba” Head, one of the nation’s premier DUI lawyers, predicted that President Obama will push for the 0.05 standard in his last year of office, much as President William Jefferson Clinton did with the 0.08 per se level in his last year in office. I don’t think that will happen. It will likely take closer to 10 years after the recommendations for it to be adopted. But, it is coming.

In other news with ADID, there appears to be some news in the states where there is no duplicate BrAC testing. For a good chart of what states still allow single BrAC samples as valid science, please visit Todd La Neve’s State by State Breath Testing Chart. It appears as if ADID is going to revisit the October 1986 COAD recommendation for duplicate testing. Although not explicitly stated, the report hints that there may be some anticipated adjustment of the near universal 0.02 sample acceptance criteria) Oklahoma is the only state that allows for a 0.03 acceptance criteria) when it comes to duplicate breath testing. Which way this will be adjusted tighter or narrower is not clear. Perhaps it will be reomved from a static number (i.e., 0.02) to a percentage. Time will tell.

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Hat tip: Alfred Staubus who went to the meeting and Jennifer Limoges, M.S who confirmed this at the annual SOFT/AAFS Drugs & Driving Committee meeting today.