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Communication Skills, Report Writing, and Courtroom Testimony for Forensic Analysts

Courtroom Testimony

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Photo of individual getting sworn in to testify
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

DNA analysis is the most rigorously tested and documented forensic science today and sets the standards by which all other forensic disciplines are compared. Its discriminatory capability and reliability is unmatched by any other forensic science discipline. Yet, when presented in court, judges, attorneys and analysts alike struggle to understand or effectively present the technology. Prosecutors and defense attorneys with large caseloads and severe time constraints wrestle to comprehend even the basic concepts. Prosecution and defense bars spend countless dollars attending training seminars on "how to handle" DNA evidence. The extensive and well-documented research of DNA science, and the standards which have been applied to forensic DNA laboratories, has resulted in limiting the available attacks against it in court. The remaining attacks generally originate from identification/collection, contamination, and statistical analysis. Many of the issues giving rise to such challenges are well beyond the scope or control of the analysts. Those that are within their control have their roots in documentation and presentation.

Effective courtroom testimony is a critical component of the analysts' duties. The ability to communicate effectively an understanding of the science, technology, and tests involved with a particular case to non-scientist is essential. Maintaining objectivity, professionalism, and scientific integrity is absolutely necessary and will avoid many of the pitfalls that analysts may otherwise face.


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