Stakeholders in the forensic science, legal, and standards community came together to discuss the intersection of these fields in this year’s American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Legal Issues Forum: Forensic Standards and Conformity Assessment. Part of ANSI’s World Standards Week series of events, the forum was held on Thursday, May 19, in Washington, DC with more than 250 people in attendance in-person and online.
The event began with keynote speaker Judge Pamela King, district court judge for Minnesota’s 3rd Judicial District. Judge King, a fellow at the American Academy of Forensic Science and highly-regarded national advisor on the importance of rigorous forensic standards in the pursuit of justice, spoke to the relationship between evidentiary rules and forensic science, highlighting how standards have been impacting forensic science disciplines in increasingly new and positive ways. Forensic science used in a legal setting brings with it many risks – the stakes are high and the impact on families and communities is immense, so it’s important to do everything possible to assure that results are reliable and replicable. That’s where consensus-based standards come in, King said.
Following the keynote address, the first distinguished panel was convened by moderator Dr. Mary McKiel, ANSI Board vice chair and standards consultant with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences – Academy Standards Board, which addressed how performance can be assessed against forensic standards from the lab perspective. Panelists Linda Jackson, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences, provided an illuminating history of the evolution of forensic science, standards and accreditation efforts; Scott Oulton, associate deputy assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Forensic Sciences, spoke to federal involvement with standards-setting in the forensic space; Brad Putnam, senior director of accreditation, forensics for the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), offered perspectives from a crime detection laboratory, including how methods have improved over the years to assure accuracy and reliability; and Peter Stout, president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center, emphasized the importance of pursuing accreditation in forensics, while also viewing accreditation as a minimum standard for best practices.
The program’s second distinguished panel took the stage to discuss the role of forensic standards in the administration of justice, the forensic standards currently used in the courtroom, and the profound impact these standards (and the evidence to which they apply) can have on the outcome of cases in our judicial system. Pamela Sale, vice president, forensics at ANAB served as moderator. Panelists Sarah Chu, senior advisor on forensic science policy for the Innocence Project, advocated that criminal legal and forensic standards align with the ANSI Essential Requirements; Ted Hunt, special counsel – Science and Technology Branch for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), addressed the challenge of developing forensic standards that can accommodate everyone; Terri Rosenblatt, chief of the Post-Conviction Justice Unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, encouraged diverse representation of stakeholders in standards committees, including individuals affected by the use of forensics; and Raymond Valerio, assistant district attorney and director of forensic sciences for the Office of the Queens County District Attorney, highlighted the importance of forensic standards in producing reliable evidence in criminal trials.
At the event’s conclusion, Gail Matthews, ANSI associate general counsel, provided brief closing remarks stating that while forensic standards have come a long way, there is still plenty of work to be done. She thanked the panelists for the spirited and enlightening discussion of these important issues.