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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Forensic Science - Legislation

This section presents a sample of links to online Federal and State legislation and testimony.

Federal Legislation

Following are examples of specific pieces of Federal legislation concerning forensic science:

To conduct a search of Federal legislation, visit Congress.gov.

Federal Rules of Evidence

The Federal Rules of Evidence are the basis for the introduction of evidence in civil and criminal cases on the Federal level. The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to cases on the State level, but each State has a model code that has been developed to reflect the Federal rules.

State Legislation

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has partnered with the National Institute of Justice to develop a DNA Laws Database. This database is searchable in six different topic areas and contains citations and summaries for individual statutes. You can search by state, by topic or by keyword. 

To learn more about legislation that has been enacted or introduced in a specific state, conduct a search of the state's legislature Web site. See the State Legislatures Internet Links section of the NCSL Web site to locate appropriate sites. NCSL may also be of further assistance in obtaining additional information about legislation at the state-level.

Benchmark Cases

The following are examples of cases that used forensic evidence to convict or exonerate suspects. The court opinions can be located using a legal database.

Maryland v. King
No. 12–207. Argued February 26, 2013—Decided June 3, 2013
Reversing a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure.

Frye v. United States
54 App. D.C., at 47, 293 F., at 1014
The Frye test originated during a 1923 case in which evidence was introduced regarding results from a systolic blood pressure deception test, which was similar to the lie detector machine. The Frye rule determined that to have scientific evidence admitted into court the evidence must be generally accepted by the scientific community.

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
509 U.S. 579
The Daubert test replaced the Frye rule in 1993 by stating that scientific evidence must pass four tests before it can be admitted into evidence for a trial. The four tests determine whether the theory or technique has been tested, whether it has been peer reviewed, its known or potential error rate and the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation, and whether it has been accepted within a relevant scientific community.

Kumho Tire v. Carmichael
119 S.Ct. 1167
During the 1998 Carmichael case, the wording of the Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals decision came into question. Daubert was limited to the scientific content of expert testimony in a courtroom when determining the relevance of admissibility. Kumho Tire v. Carmichael brought to question that not all testimony given by experts is scientifically based; instead it can be non-scientific technical evidence. It was determined that the text of the Daubert rule when determining reliability and relevancy can be "flexible" based on the occupation of the expert witness.

Brady v. Maryland
373 U.S. 83
During the 1963 Brady trial, two defendants charged with first-degree murder were granted separate trials. One defendant confessed to the murder, but the prosecution withheld the statement from the other defendant throughout the trial. During the appeals process, the withheld evidence came to light and Brady was granted a new sentencing hearing, but not a new trial. "Suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused who has requested it violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution."

Herrera v. Collins
506 U.S. 390
This case brought a new rule for evidence submission which touched upon the earlier ruling in Townsend v. Sain. "Where newly discovered evidence is alleged in a habeas application, evidence which could not reasonably have been presented to the State trier of facts, the Federal court must grant an evidentiary hearing. Of course, such evidence must bear upon the constitutionality of the applicant's detention; the existence merely of newly discovered evidence relevant to the guilt of a state prisoner is not a ground for relief on Federal habeas corpus."

People v. Castro
545 N.Y.S.2d 985 (Sup. Ct. 1989)
People v. Castro was the first case to challenge a DNA profile's admissibility. The court determined that "DNA identification theory and practice are generally accepted among the scientific community. The court determined that DNA tests could be conducted and allowed into evidence as long as they showed the blood on the defendant's watch was not his, but tests could not be conducted to show the blood belonged to one of the victims" (Convicted by Juries, Exonerated By Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, 1996).

Spencer v. Commonwealth
384 S.E.2d 253 (1989)
Spencer v. Commonwealth was the first case that used DNA evidence to convict a person with a resulting sentence of death. Timothy Wilson was sentenced to the death penalty when semen found in several victims matched his DNA (Convicted by Juries, Exonerated By Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, 1996).

State v. Woodall
385 S.E.2d 253 (W. Va. 1989)
State v. Woodall was the first case in which the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled on the admissibility of DNA evidence. The court allowed DNA testing from an expert on the defense side to present their findings, but determined that the evidence was inconclusive and convicted Woodall of the rape, kidnapping, and robbery of two females. DNA testing at a later date concluded that Woodall was not the perpetrator, which forced the courts to release him from prison (Convicted by Juries, Exonerated By Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, 1996).

Schwartz v. State
447 N, W.2d 422 (1989)
In Schwartz v. State the court refused to admit DNA results from a private forensic laboratory stating that the lab did not comply with established rules and guidelines for analyzing evidence. The Minnesota Supreme Court did conclude that "…ideally, a defendant should be provided with the actual DNA sample(s) in order to reproduce the results. As a practical matter, this may not be possible because forensic samples are often so small that the entire sample is used to testing. Consequently, access to the data, methodology, and actual results is crucial . . . for an independent expert review" (Convicted by Juries, Exonerated By Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, 1996).

Links from the NCJRS Web site to non-Federal sites do not constitute an endorsement by NCJRS or its sponsors. NCJRS is not responsible for the content or privacy policy of any off-site pages that are referenced, nor does NCJRS guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or correct sequencing of information. NCJRS is also not responsible for the use of, or results obtained from the use of, the information. It is the responsibility of the user to evaluate the content and usefulness of information obtained from non-Federal sites.