Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2011, $496,006)
The grantee will conduct four overlapping studies to improve our understanding of the way that forensic scientific evidence is created and used in the criminal justice system and help it realize its potential. First, in eight selected jurisdictions, they will interview police, prosecutors, and crime lab scientists to understand how forensic science is created and used and the obstacles to improving its use. Second, they will take a sample of recent cases in those jurisdictions and track them from investigation to adjudication to understand how forensic evidence affects outcomes in these jurisdictions. This will build on Peterson (2010)'s work and allow them to address a range of research questions about the creation and effect of forensic evidence in a wide range of jurisdictions. It will also allow them to measure the gap, if any, between stakeholders' perceptions and the actual effect of forensic evidence. Third, they will analyze the data collected in the BJS censuses of crime labs in the United States in order to determine what effects, if any, payment system and organizational structure have on laboratory productivity and public safety impact. Does the fee-for-service payment system exhibit any impact on clearance rate, positive or negative? Does a crime laboratory's organizational affiliation have any bearing on productivity or case clearance rate? Finally, they will conduct a national survey of prosecutors and defense counsel with experimental manipulations to understand how forensic evidence affects the perceived strength of the case during plea negotiations and trial. These overlapping studies will improve our understanding of how forensic scientific evidence is produced and used from investigation to conviction in a range of crimes and jurisdictions with different policies and institutional structures. Such a knowledge base is a prerequisite to identifying evidence-based best practices in the organization of crime labs, the prioritization of testing, and the production and use of forensic scientific evidence. Ultimately, these best practices will help the law enforcement community use the considerable untapped potential of forensic scientific evidence to solve crimes quickly, accurately, and efficiently.