Yesterday afternoon, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced H.R. 8239, the Forensic Science Research and Standards Act of 2020. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that forensic analyses used in criminal investigations and presented in court are founded on rigorous science and yield evidence that judges, prosecutors, defendants, and juries can trust.
The legislation establishes an interagency working group on forensic science research that is tasked with coordinating Federal investments and developing a unified Federal research strategy for forensic science research and standards and directs the agencies responsible for forensics science to carry out research and other activities consistent with the strategy. The legislation also codifies the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), including specifying the overall structure and processes of the OSAC, and emphasizing broad stakeholder participation and input, scientific integrity, and transparency. Finally, the legislation directs NIST to carry out foundational studies for forensic science disciplines to identify gaps in scientific knowledge and opportunities to continue to strengthen such disciplines.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a Senate companion to this legislation yesterday, S.4568.
“Wrongful convictions take a profound human toll on innocent men and women and their families and mar the reputation of our justice system,” said Chairwoman Johnson. “They also put our communities at risk by allowing the actual criminals to roam free and commit more violent crimes. I hope we can all agree that only the best available science belongs in the courtroom, and that the justice system must be just for all, including the wrongfully accused. The Forensic Science Research and Standards Act helps make this possible by strengthening the scientific foundations of forensic evidence. I want to thank Ranking Member Lucas and our colleagues in the Senate for joining me in introducing this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.”
“Forensic science is playing an increasingly large role in our criminal justice system, and we know it has a persuasive effect on juries,” said Ranking Member Lucas. “Because of that, it’s critical that we have scientific, consistent, and robust standards for the use and analysis of forensics. This bill builds on the incredible work already being done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And, by creating a national strategy for forensics research, our legislation will ensure that scientific guidelines are widely adopted. This is a great example of how we can make use of the knowledge and support of our federal research enterprise, and I’m proud to work with Chairwoman Johnson, Senator Wicker, and Senator Cantwell to improve our use of forensic science.”