With advancements in DNA, digital forensics, innovative technologies, and robust analytical methods, forensic science is transforming the criminal justice system. It is helping practitioners identify perpetrators of violent crimes, exonerate the innocent, and apprehend and justly prosecute criminals.
NIJ is the only federal agency supporting programs dedicated to forensic science research, development, and evaluation in conjunction with capacity building and technical assistance. We remain committed to a sustained national effort to develop faster and more discriminatory forensic science methods, while helping laboratories enhance capacity and improve efficiency. These efforts are instrumental in furthering the initiatives of the Attorney General to improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science services and eliminate backlogs in the processing and analysis of forensic evidence.
We chose to focus this issue of the NIJ Journal on forensic science topics and policy areas that are highly complex and sometimes not fully understood, including sexual assault investigations and missing persons and unidentified decedents cases. Articles on advanced imaging and 3D printing technologies discuss the challenges of adapting technological advancements in an operational environment. Another article looks to alleviate some of the confusion regarding erroneous convictions, DNA exonerations, and the role of forensic science. Throughout this Journal issue, we identify areas in which more scientific knowledge and understanding are needed to inform and advance policies and practices across the country, which is core to NIJ’s mission.
Since coming to NIJ, I have gained an appreciation for the important role NIJ’s forensic science research and development work plays in the criminal justice system. Research yields benefits beyond advancing knowledge and technology. For example, robust forensic science methods provide critical scientific underpinnings for investigations and prosecutions, as well as powerful crime prevention tools when used to apprehend violent criminals and, in turn, stop them from perpetrating additional crimes. Forensic science allows us to further the Department of Justice’s goal to increase public safety.
NIJ has a unique dual mission when it comes to forensic science. We support strengthening the accuracy, reliability, and validity of the forensic sciences. But we also know that as the value of forensic testing has been increasingly recognized, the demand for forensic analysis has grown exponentially. This is especially evident with DNA analysis, as well as forensic drug and toxicology testing resulting from the opioid epidemic and the rise in the use of designer drugs. To help combat these issues, NIJ provides funding directly to state and local laboratories to increase laboratory capacity and reduce the backlogs of evidence, because providing timely information to law enforcement and the courts ultimately bolsters the administration of justice.
I am proud to say that I am committed to a strategy that couples rigorous research and development with capacity enhancement and technical assistance to serve the law enforcement and forensic science communities and further the priorities of the Department of Justice by helping reduce violent crime, supporting prosecutors, and advancing new technologies and strategies that enhance public safety.
David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Justice
About This Article
This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 279, April 2018.