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What might a “gold standard” or perfect public forensic laboratory model be? Is there such a thing as a perfect model? Public forensic laboratories can be set up and operated in a variety of ways but no single, exemplary structure exists. This article addresses such questions about forensic laboratories as, “To which agency in local, state or federal government should a forensic laboratory be placed?”, “Is there such a thing as an appropriate level of service?”, and “Is the present system of delivering forensic science services within the criminal justice system the most efficient or effective arrangement?”, in the discussion of what a model forensic laboratory might look like.
It may reasonably be argued that the existing “non-system” delivery of forensic science services in the United States described in the report is because it was never planned or developed as a system. There never has been a conceptual model for an ideal, effective, efficient, reliable forensic science delivery system. Developing such a model would be a substantial challenge and would require a significant effort by knowledgeable creative stakeholders. One such model, the conceptualization of an ideal forensic science delivery system, is described in this article.
The National Academy of Sciences Forensic Science Committee issued a report in 2009 that raised a number of issues concerning forensic science. One of the major criticisms of the report concerned the nature of forensic science laboratories in the U.S. The report focused on the fragmentation of the system, the lack of universal accreditation and certification of laboratories and personnel, the management and funding models and a serious lack of standards in reporting, terminology, and methods of analysis. The question thus arises; if one could design the model of a forensic science laboratory, what should it look like? What should its management structure be? Should it be affiliated with a law enforcement agency or independent? Must it be accredited? Must all of the scientists who work in the lab be certified? What standards should be developed that govern the operation of the laboratory? What types of training should be put in place? The answers to these and other, similar questions can provide a framework for the design and implementation of a model forensic science laboratory. In the opinion of the author, such a lab would be independent of law enforcement, accredited and certified, be independently funded by the jurisdiction within which it lies, have standardized, documented training protocols, standardized, validated methods of analysis and a role for research into new methods of analysis. These and other issues are discussed.
Forensic science is a unique discipline; it is like no other professional enterprise. First and foremost, our work is done in an adversarial system of the courts. In the United States, this poses a unique juxtaposition that places professionals in science and the law to debate truth versus justice. Secondarily, the producers of forensic science deliverables are considered “high reliability organizations” or HROs. We are responsible for the production and transformation of information from raw materials that are insulted, degraded, and contaminated collected from non-pristine and non-controlled environments and have to turn that into “perfect” information. No other industry or enterprise has this level of difficulty or responsibility in producing its work product. This article is a response to the three model proposals in this issue, offering a commentary and vision of the future for a model forensic science laboratory.
This article attempts to answer the question: If it had to be done over again, knowing what is known now, how would the ideal forensic science laboratory be constructed, organized, and operated? A project was initiated to answer this question by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in Houston, Texas, which brought together select, influential, and highly recognized forensic science icons to discuss and document the elements of the model forensic science laboratory—to the extent that such a model could actually exist. Barry A.J. Fisher, Doug M. Lucas, and Jay A. Siegel (the project team) each authored, independently, a manuscript outlining what they believed were the critical elements or criteria defining the model forensic science laboratory. Once the aforementioned manuscripts were completed, the project team requested that this article be written to independently review, consolidate, and comment on the work of the project team writers.