This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
use of scientific knowledge in legal cases is called forensics, from the Latin term
for a public forum. The public may get the idea from TV that forensic science
can solve almost any mystery. Yet the methods used in crime laboratories are
now themselves being examined.
the United States, a two-year study requested by Congress was released earlier
this year. It found that except for nuclear DNA analysis, no forensic method
has really proven itself as a way to link evidence to a person.
The National Research Council, part of the National
Academies, suggested ways to strengthen forensic science in the United States. A
committee found serious problems in the current system. Differences between
budgets, equipment and the availability of skilled workers have created uneven
quality from lab to lab. No one even knows how many forensics laboratories,
public or private, there are.
are no national standards for the employees. And only four states -- Texas,
Oklahoma, New York and now Missouri -- require lab approval by an accrediting
The Innocence Project is a group that
works to help prisoners who could be proven innocent by DNA testing. Last
month, its director, Peter Neufeld, spoke at a Senate hearing on the report. He
told the story of Roy Brown, who was found guilty of murder and who also attended
case against him included a bite mark examined by a forensic dentist. The real
killer was later identified through DNA. By that time, Roy Brown had served
fifteen years in prison.
far, DNA testing has cleared -- the term is exonerated -- more than two hundred
forty people in the United States. Some had been sentenced to death, though none
had been executed already.
Neufeld says the issue is not just about protecting the innocent, but also
about catching the guilty.
PETER NEUFELD: "Because in each of these cases, the real
perpetrator was out there committing other heinous crimes."
The report earlier this year urged Congress to
establish a National Institute of Forensic Science. It would lead research
efforts and establish and enforce standards.
Chu from the Innocence Project says her group believes this is the most
important recommendation. But the American Society of Crime Laboratory
Directors says there is no need to create a new agency to handle that task. In
March the society wrote a letter to Congress in reaction to the report.
group said crime laboratories today are doing more with less. They face heavy
demands with limited resources and limited ability to meet training and other professional
needs. The group said Congress should support large amounts of money for all
areas of forensic science, not just DNA.
the United States, criminal suspects have a right to face their accusers at
trial. In June, the Supreme Court ruled five to four that analysts who prepare
crime lab reports can be called to appear. The justices said being able to
cross-examine the analysts could help uncover any problems with the testing
methods or results used as evidence.
And that's IN THE NEWS in
VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.