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DOJ changes a start, but forensics commentators want more

Seemingly deemed as unerringly accurate at one time, forensic science -- both its techniques and processes -- has been somewhat on the defensive in recent years.

That is, there are critics. The advocacy group Innocence Project asserts that forensic evidence factors into about 50% of wrongful criminal convictions in the United States. Hair analysis accuracy has been materially debunked -- by FBI investigators themselves. Reportedly, no study exists to prove that a given fingerprint is actually unique. A recent media article spotlighting forensic science shortcomings stresses that there is "little evidence to support" the accuracy of bite mark-related analysis and that "there are even questions about the accuracy of DNA evidence."

That comprises a veritable barrel of concerns, which is why commentators on recently hyped DOJ changes in policies surrounding forensic standards in laboratories endorse the updates.

At the same time, though, they decry perceived shortcomings. They argue that the standards are inadequate because they apply only in federal facilities, excluding the legions of state labs nationally where most forensic research occurs.

And they criticize the lack of any call for increased participation from a large contingent of independent scientists. The new policies are directed only to a limited number of government researchers, and they are aimed more at ensuring things like language consistency rather than increased scientific applications geared toward enhanced accuracy.

"[W]e need to continue to push the science forward," says the director of one forensic evidence center.

Many critics of the status quo agree with her, believing that far greater resources and funding need to be committed to better ensure the accuracy of forensic evidence offered in criminal cases.

It is no overstatement to note that the lives of wrongly convicted individuals depend on that.

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