July 2015 Criminalistics Section News

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.

Source: Kristy Kadash, PhD, Section Program Co-Chair

As scientists, we appreciate that our fields are constantly evolving. New information leads to improved understanding of what evidence can tell us. And as scientists, we are accustomed to the process of peer and technical review before our results are presented. This provides an opportunity to double check the reliability of our test methods and the soundness of our conclusions. Unlike scientists in other realms, however, forensic scientists have an additional challenge – the legal system. Forensics has been in the public eye for long enough that we are starting to witness an increase in the criticism of the science that was presented in court decades ago. How do we convey to the courts and the public that our testimony today, while accurate and correct, may be less discriminating than future science can provide? For example, no present-day jury would be satisfied with a simple blood type result to tie an individual to a crime scene. They want the DNA result. DNA profiling may have superseded the antiquated blood type test method, but it does not invalidate the accuracy of the original result. To extend this example, who knows what technology may be in place down the road that could make current DNA testing methods insufficient in the courtroom. Fortunately, our field is taking action on multiple fronts to make substantial improvements as we head into the future.

At the beginning of this year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) launched into action with the first in-person meetings. Each of the 24 subcommittees began to identify standards that can be used to train scientists, to validate methods, to identify proper terminology, and to clearly report conclusions. The first work products from this effort should be available for public discussion before the next AAFS meeting. Similarly, the Department of Justice National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) has been working to establish Policy Recommendations and Views documents since early 2014. I encourage all of you to participate in one of these venues, whether going to the NCFS public meetings, responding to requests for comments, serving on an OSAC subcommittee/task group, or just talking with colleagues about the work being done in these groups. Together, we can improve how we conduct science in the lab and how we convey science to the public.

Building on the 2016 AAFS annual meeting theme, Transformation: Embracing Change, this year’s Criminalistics Section program will test out a couple of new features, primarily “selected abstracts” and “special sessions.” These changes are intended to spotlight the most promising research developments in our various disciplines and to invite interactive discussions about the issues that concern us the most. If successful, this format may be adopted for future meetings. One of the Special Sessions will focus on the hot topic of DNA mixture interpretation and statistical evaluation (“Town Hall Meeting on DNA Mixtures”). A panel of approximately six members, consisting of practitioners, researchers, and academicians, will be on hand to answer questions and identify key aspects of the interpretation process. If you have any general questions and/or a problematic mixture to share with the panel, PLEASE send them to Section Program Co-Chair Kristy Kadash (kkadash@co.jefferson.co.us). These inquiries will be compiled and presented for discussion during the Town Hall session.

In preparation for this year’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, we are looking for volunteers to serve as moderators and presenters. Contact the Section Program Chair Vincent Desiderio (vfornsic@yahoo.com) and Co-Chair Kristy Kadash if you wish to get involved. One more reminder that the deadline to submit abstracts for oral and poster presentations is just a few short weeks away – AUGUST 1. Please see the Announcement and Call For Papers in the newsletter and/or visit the AAFS website for instructions and additional details.