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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Using Plain Language in Reports

Photo of a person reviewing a document. Caption reads, 'Reports: should be written in plain, clear and basic language'
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Many people who read and interpret these reports are not trained scientists, so all explanations, conclusions and statements (particularly when describing statistical frequencies or probability of occurrence) should be written in plain, clear and basic language to avoid ambiguity or misunderstanding.

All supporting documentation associated with the case, such as logs, handwritten notes and template forms, should be maintained in one central location (usually a case file or folder). Because different evidence items from the same case may be tested over a span of time, the specific dates that tests were performed on each item should be carefully and accurately recorded in the case file.

Any documents maintained by the laboratory that pertain to multiple cases (such as calibration logs or validation reports of equipment used in the testing process) may be maintained separately from the documentation for specific cases. Documentation should be maintained in a central location and be made available upon request by appropriate parties.

Often, laboratories will have someone on staff responsible for responding to discovery requests. Because casework documentation can be subject to discovery, it should never be destroyed. Federal law prohibits the destruction of public records created in forensic evidence testing in federal and state government crime labs.

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