WHEELING - A measure introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller seeks to make forensic procedures used in criminal investigations more reliable and "science based."
Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has introduced the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012. The bill comes after the Justice Department and the FBI indicated this week they are launching a review of thousands of criminal cases in which forensic work used to convict may have lacked scientific support.
"This week's announcement that thousands of criminal convictions may have been based on flawed hair and fiber evidence is deeply disturbing," said Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in a statement released by the Commerce Committee.
"Even one innocent person wrongfully convicted is too many," he said. "My bill would help fix this problem and strengthen our cherished values of truth and justice. It would bring 21st century advancements in technology and testing to forensic science. Collaboration between our scientists and our criminal justice system is the only way to put our evidence standards on a solid scientific footing, so that we can successfully convict criminals and protect the innocent."
Rockefeller's bill, Senate Bill 3379, would establish the National Forensic Science Coordinating Office, to be housed at the National Science Foundation. The office would be charged with creating strategies to improve forensic science and coordinating these methods within the federal agencies involved.
The NSF also would be directed to award two grants to create forensic science centers to conduct research, build relationships with forensic practitioners and educate students.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology then would be tapped to develop forensic science standards in consultation with standards development organizations and other stakeholders.
A Forensic Science Advisory Committee chaired by the director of the NIST and the U.S. attorney general next would be established. The advisory committee would be composed of research scientists, forensic science practitioners and users from the legal and law enforcement communities and would make recommendations to the attorney general on adoption of standards.
Once these standards were determined, the attorney general would have the responsibility of seeing they are implemented and used in federal forensic science laboratories, the legislation states. The measure also directs the attorney general to encourage adoption of the standards in non-federal laboratories by making them a condition for federal funding or inclusion in national databases.