Carol Henderson
and Diana Botluk

There is no ignoring the impact of scientific evidence in the legal system today. New developments in science and technology are advancing at a rapid pace. These include digital and multimedia sciences, canine scent detection, touch DNA, and others. Judges, attorneys, scientists, and law enforcement personnel need to keep abreast of the scientific advances, as well as changes in the rules of evidence. There has also been much discussion about increasing juror expectations regarding such evidence (the so-called CSI effect).1

The judge who turns a blind eye to these advances and expectations does so at his or her own peril and to the detriment of the justice system. Judges must be aware of the ethical implications regarding errant experts and attorneys’ duties to verify their experts’ credentials and challenge those of the opposing party.2

Congress recognized the importance of scientific evidence to the legal system and called for the creation of an independent forensic science committee at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to identify the needs of the forensic science community, including assessing present and future resource needs of labs, the medical examiner, and coroner offices; identifying potential scientific advances that will assist law enforcement in using forensic technologies; and determining how to disseminate best practices and guidelines to ensure quality and consistency in the use of technologies and techniques. This effort resulted in a report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.3

The NAS report noted, “[L]awyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methodology, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the reliability of forensic science evidence that is offered in trial.” Additionally, the report stated, “[T]he fruits of any advances in the forensic science disciplines should be transferred directly to legal scholars and practitioners, … members of the judiciary, and [other members of the justice system] so that appropriate adjustments can be made in criminal and civil laws and procedures, model jury instructions, law enforcement practices, litigation, strategies, and judicial decision making.”

Further, “judges need to be better educated in forensic science methodologies and practices.” Two government entities were established to address the report’s recommendations: the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS), whose mission is to develop policy, and the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC), whose mission is to develop discipline-specific practice standards and guidelines. OSAC has a Forensic Resource Committee and NCFS has a Training on Science and Law Subcommittee, both of which are committed to greater interdisciplinary knowledge sharing between the legal and forensic science communities.

What follows is an overview of some of the valuable resources on scientific evidence that the legal profession needs and the criminal and civil justice systems require for justice to be served in today’s science- and technology-driven climate.

General Scientific Evidence Resources

  • The National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law (NCSTL) at Stetson University College of Law addresses the justice system’s escalating need for information on science, technology, and the law. The NCSTL website gathers a wide variety of forensic-related information, freely available to users. Its forensic database of bibliographic information includes books, scientific and legal journal articles, newspaper and magazine articles, seminars and conference sessions, dissertations, and organizations. The related links section provides a directory of scientific and law-related links. The education section provides handouts created for professional development presentations by NCSTL staff, transcripts, podcasts, and webcasts of lectures on forensic science and technology.
  • The National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Sciences website provided the full text of many NIJ publications related to forensic science and descriptions of NIJ programs and funding sources.
  • The FBI’s Handbook of Forensic Services is divided into four major sections: introduction, submitting evidence, evidence examinations, and crime-scene safety.
  • A database of books from FORENSICnetBASE/LawENFORCEMENTnetBASE for an annual subscription fee provides the full texts of dozens of forensic science and criminal justice books.
  • Gelman Library’s Forensic Sciences pathfinder, provided by George Washington University, has information about forensic-related resources in both print and online formats.
  • Science and Technology Resources on the Internet describes and links to the best forensic resources on the Internet.
  • Zeno’s Forensic Site is a web directory of hundreds of forensic-related sites. An interesting feature of the site is its user ratings option. It provides the opportunity to be informed by email when new links are added.
  • Reddy’s Forensic Page is a topically organized directory of dozens of links related to forensic science and law.
  • Crime and Clues: The Art and Science of Criminal Investigation gathers articles about aspects of criminal investigation, including different types of scientific evidence, crime scene and death investigation, testimony and ethics.
  • The National Museum of Crime and Punishment offers an online Crime Library that provides background information on crime, forensic investigation, and famous cases.
  • A Dictionary of Forensic Science is available for a fee and contains over 1,300 terms and concepts.
  • A free forensic glossary can be found at Forensics: Examining the Evidence.
  • The Crime Lab Project Forum reports on the latest news about crime labs and other forensic related stories. Readers can have frequent updates emailed to them.
  • Daubert Tracker is a subscription-based service that tracks U.S. federal and state court decisions and supporting documents about “evidentiary gatekeeping.” It provides a database of all reported decisions and many unreported decisions dating back to 1993. It also supplies information regarding the expert’s name, discipline, area of expertise challenged, and results of the challenge.

Finding Forensic Science-Related Articles

Forensic Associations and Societies

Most forensic associations and societies provide information about the organizations and their membership on their websites.

Web Resources Related to Specific Forensic Science Topics

Forensic Pathology
  • Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body is an exhibition at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, with a complementary online exhibit. The website features the history of forensic medicine, galleries of famous forensic cases throughout history, libraries of images and videos, and other educational resources.
Forensic Anthropology
  • The International Association for Craniofacial Identification (IACI), composed primarily of medical and scientific professionals from throughout the world, focuses on craniofacial identification. The organization offers educational opportunities that include classes ranging from “How to Be a Forensic Artist” and “Understanding the Human Face” to both basic and advanced classes such as “Facial Reconstruction Sculpture.” The site includes links to selected historical exhumation projects, as well as nearly 30 related craniofacial identification sites and publications.
  • IACI member and forensic artist Wesley Neville maintains Forensic Art World, which describes the various facets of forensic art and links to additional resources.
  • The American Association of Physical Anthropology website offers access to its journal, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and links to other related scientific associations.
  • The Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is well known for its outdoor anthropological research facility, essential for providing education and training in forensic anthropology. The Center maintains the Forensic Anthropology Data Bank containing 3,400 forensic anthropology case analyses available to researchers upon request.
Biometrics
  • Biometrics.gov is the authoritative source for all biometrics-related activities within the federal government. The Biometrics Reference Room tab leads to information about biometrics technology and biometrics programs hosted by federal agencies. It offers Privacy & Biometrics: Building a Conceptual Foundation, a publication offering the government’s perspective on biometrics privacy. Next, the site provides information on the National Science & Technology Council’s (NSTC) Subcommittee on Biometrics, including presentations, publications, and additional technical information. Lastly, it offers the NSTC Policy for Enabling the Development, Adoption and Use of Biometric Standards, as well as the Registry of USG Recommended Standards.
  • The Biometric Consortium site provides links to conference material.
Forensic Botany
  • The Internet Directory of Botany is an extensive, award-winning alphabetical index of links to online botanical information, including specific databases, articles, and other resources.
Toxicology
  • The International Association of Forensic Toxicologists site maintains a user-contributed collection of reference analytical data to assist in the identification of unknown toxic substances, an observatory section composed of links and a large directory of all genres of toxicology-related websites arranged by forensic specialty, and a “powersearch” area to access various scientific and medical literature and technological information. Membership allows access to the organization’s therapeutic and toxic drug concentrations list developed by colleagues and medical specialists and from information obtained through the field’s literature, from the pharmaceutical industries, and by comparison with established drug data lists.
  • The Society of Forensic Toxicologists site introduces forensic toxicology and allows public users to download guidelines for the practice of forensic toxicology in the areas of postmortem forensic toxicology and human performance forensic toxicology. Additional downloads include the organization’s Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault Survey and Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault Drug List and Cutoffs, and the new American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Toxicology Section Mass Spectrometry Database, a comprehensive drug library ofthe spectra for several hundred substances,including a mini-library of the mass spectraof newer drugs, metabolites, and somebreakdown products.
Fingerprints
  • The FBI’s Biometric Center of Excellence maintains a page from which users may access general and historical information on fingerprint identification, become familiar with IAFIS, learn the proper method for taking legible fingerprints, and discover training opportunities.
  • The Fingerprint Sourcebook, prepared by the International Association for Identification, is a comprehensive resource on the science of fingerprint identification.
  • Latent Print Examination: Fingerprints, Palmprints and Footprints is dedicated to latent print examination. The website is an extensive repository of relevant latent fingerprint, handprint, and footprint technology; history; news; case law; and links. Topics from challenges to fingerprint evidence reliability to the latest technologies for crime scene processing and evidence collection are explored in depth, and discussion forums and opportunities to “ask an expert” are available.
  • Complete Latent Print Examination allows latent print examiners to locate information they need. It provides links to other fingerprint websites and to reference articles on print examination, and lists of fingerprint consultants, training opportunities, and books about fingerprint examination. It provides a weekly newsletter called the Weekly Detail.
DNA
  • Forensic Bioinformatics provides articles about DNA and other informational pieces, a small selection of scholarly articles, videos about DNA, information about DNA testing, and even a sample discovery motion.
  • MITOMAP: A Human Mitochondrial Genome Database can be searched by gene, disease, or enzyme. The researcher may use subsections divided into areas including “MtDNA Polymorphisms” and “MtDNA Mutations with Reports of Disease-Associations,” and organized by mtDNA location or phenotype. The website is supplemented by illustrations and tables, a “Mitomap Quick Reference” section including an extensive bibliography of mitochondrial references, and links to additional databases.
  • DNA•VIEW presents a comprehensive look at forensic DNA analysis, particularly as it relates to mathematics. The site provides topical news; articles; archived discussions on DNA identification, including recent identifications after mass disasters; information on DNA identification software; and data tables organized by subject.
Firearms
  • FirearmsID provides extensive educational and investigative information including firearm safety, topical articles, expert testimony, firearms testing, and an introduction to firearms and ballistics. It is arranged by categories like the History of Firearm ID and Case Profiles and offers a discussion area, Forensic Forum, and a Resource Area offering a Ballistics Picture Book and Virtual Comparison Microscope and databases containing rifling data and a bullet and Shotshell Component Search.
  • Firearm Identification in the Forensic Science Laboratory is a National District Attorneys Association booklet. It describes the science of firearm identification, production of firearm toolmarks on fired cartridges, the examination process, and trial preparation.
Odontology
  • Issues in Human and Animal Bite Mark (Bitemark) Analysis provides an extensive overview supplemented by links to several case studies (for example, serial killer Ted Bundy and the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 in 2000), photos of bitemark evidence, journal articles, and links to similar websites.
  • Forensic Dentistry Online, from the International Organisation for Forensic Odontostomotology (IOFOS), provides information about bitemarks and bitemark identification, including new resources using DNA from teeth and saliva, as well the legal aspects of bitemark evidence admissibility.
Questioned Documents
  • Identifont provides the largest independent directory of online typefaces for type and picture or symbol fonts by font appearance, name, or similarity. Users can also download a wide selection of fonts for free.
  • Omniglot provides details of alphabets and writing systems, both current and ancient. Each writing system is illustrated, with information provided about its origin, usage, notable features, and the languages written with it.

Carol Henderson is the founding director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law (ncstl.org) and is a professor of law at Stetson University College of Law. She also serves as a member of the ABA Judicial Division Forensic Science Committee and is co-chair of the Life & Physical Sciences Division of the ABA Science & Technology Law Section.

Diana Botluk currently serves as the interim association director and head of Public Services at Barry University Law Library in Orlando and is the author of The Legal List: Research on the Internet.

With thanks to Megan M. Jarrett, Stetson University second-year law student, for excellent research assistance, and Dr. Susan Zucker, for editing expertise.

Editor’s Note: The full version of this article was originally published in The Judges’ Journal, Volume 54, Number 3, 2015. © 2015 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

These topics will be featured in the NJC’s Scientific Evidence and Expert Testimony course, offered September 26-29, 2016 in Clearwater, Florida. Author Carol Henderson, NJC Faculty and founding director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law, will be an instructor in the course.

  1. See Hon. Donald E. Shelton, Young S. Kim & Gregg Barak, An Indirect-Effects Model of Mediated Adjudication: The CSI Myth, the Tech Effect, and Metropolitan Jurors’ Expectations for Scientific Evidence, 12 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 1 (2009).
  2. See Carol Henderson & Kurt Lentz, Expert Witness: Qualifications and Testimony, in Scientific Evidence Review: Monograph No. 9 (Sci.& Tech. Law Section, Am. Bar Ass’n, Cynthia H. Cwik, Jules Epstein & Carol Henderson eds., 2013); Digging Up Dirt on Experts, NCSTL.org, http://www.ncstl.org/education.
  3. Nat’l Research Council, Nat’l Acad. Of Sci., Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009) [hereinafter NAS report], available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228091.pdf.