Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reject the Criminal Justice and Forensic Reform Act

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has announced legislation to reform forensic testing.

The Criminal Justice and Forensic Reform Act of 2011, as it will initially be known, would:
• Create an Office of Forensic Science and a Forensic Science Board charged with establishing and enforcing accreditation and certification standards, developing research strategies, and implementing those strategies with consistency across the field.
• Give the director of the Office of Forensic Science power to grant, deny, revoke, limit or suspend an accreditation and determine if lab employees are in compliance with certification standards.
• Promote research and provide grant funding and technical assistance to forensic labs.
I find this steady march to regulate and micromanage everything extremely troubling. This desire for omnipresent government control stifles personal and organizational creativity and independence while eliminating the need for personal and organizational responsibility.

It seems to me that no prosecutor or defense attorney would want to risk a case or his reputation on flawed forensics. They want the best possible evidence to support every case thy handle. Therefore, a case for standardized, quality forensic work by certified technicians in certified labs is warranted.

But, who should do that certification? I submit that this responsibility should lie within and be controlled by the forensics industry -- in the free market. There are countless precedents and models for industry-controlled lab certification:
• Underwriters Laboratories (UL) which partners with manufacturers to provide safe products through UL testing, certification and follow-up audits.
• American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), the largest and oldest pathology and laboratory medicine society and the gold standard in certification for laboratory professionals.
• Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) which creates and publishes industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability and quality; coordinates technical data; and promotes safe and responsible firearms use.
By keeping the government out of the forensic lab certification process, the free market will drive innovation while keeping costs down. Historically, government bureaucracies inevitably inhibit innovation, yet cause costs to soar and introduce politics into the process.

Interestingly, the makings of a forensic lab certification organization already exists: The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) that provides leadership to advance science and its application to the legal system. The objectives of the Academy are to promote integrity, competency, education, foster research, improve practice, and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences.

I urge the AAFS to work with forensics labs and technicians to promptly establish of an industry-controlled lab, technician, and training certification process and organization of the highest standards to meet the current and future needs of the nation's legal process -- before the government steps in to take control.

I also urge Congress and the Whitehouse to soundly reject Senator Leahy's forensic reform legislation and allow the forensics industry police itself in a free market.

If Senator Leahy needs something to do, how about conducting an audit of all laws, rules, policies, programs, and agencies. Then, introduce legislation to phase out all laws, rules, policies, programs, and agencies which are outside the limits placed on the federal government by the US Constitution. Senator Leahy should also introduce legislation requiring that all new or expanded laws, rules, policies, programs, and agencies have a maximum 10-year sunset.

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