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Focus Group on Scientific and Forensic Evidence in the Courtroom

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2007
24 pages
This report summarizes the discussion of a focus group convened by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice in order to identify and review issues related to the current and future use of scientific and forensic evidence in the courtroom.
Much of the group's discussion focused on validity testing, expert presentation, and education. In the discussion of validity testing within the forensic science disciplines, focus-group members suggested that the exclusively crime-solving or "soft sciences" (including handwriting analysis, fingerprints, firearms identification, bite marks, microscopic hair comparisons, and voiceprints) might have the most to gain from such validity testing. The group also discussed the use and development of accurate probability assessments, evidence lineups, and blind testing to counter the effect of any contextual influence and to reduce the possibility of scientific error due to human factors. Regarding the manner in which experts present their findings, there was general agreement among focus-group members that how forensic sciences are presented in court is a critical component of whether or not the judge and jury gain a proper understanding of the forensic evidence. The phrasing used in interpreting the evidence and the characterization of the evidence by experts can have a significant influence on the judge's and jury's comprehension of expert testimony. Education for virtually every participant in the court process was emphasized as the solution for addressing courtroom confusion associated with forensic evidence. This includes educating law students on questioning scientific assumptions; educating experts on communicating with laypersons about their science; educating attorneys on laws regarding expert testimony and the most effective methods for presenting and responding to expert testimony; educating jurors on technical issues; and educating judges on the basics of a particular science, and effective procedures and regulations for expert presentations. Appended listing of focus group members, meeting agenda, the decision "tree," innovative trial practices, and 12 listings of background material

Date Published: June 1, 2007