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Lack of standard practice makes forensic science fallible

Consider for a moment the world around you, particularly when it comes to standards. When you go to the doctors or visit the hospital, there are health care and safety standards in place. The roads you drive on to get to these locations and the signs you follow are all thanks to standards. Even the vehicle you drive in needs to meet certain federal standards before a manufacturer it allowed to sell it.

Because standards and guidelines are so prominent in our everyday lives, we tend to expect that they will be existent in every aspect of our lives. But did you know that there still aren't any federal standards governing forensic science? In fact, it wasn't until January 2014 that an agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was finally created to "improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system."

Because of prosecutorial shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order," where forensic science is touted as the end-all-be-all of evidence, many people the nation over have a belief that forensic science is infallible. In many cases, people believe that if the results of a scientific test say a person is guilty, then there is no reason to refute this assessment. Unfortunately, as the case of Earl Washington shows, forensics isn't always perfect.

For those who do not know, Earl Washington served 17 years in prison because forensic evidence suggested that he had raped and murdered a woman. It wasn't until Washington's lawyers proved the evidence to be faulty that he was finally released.

But how could something like this happen? According to an article in Slate, the reason is because there are no federal standards that dictate how forensic tests should be performed. Furthermore, many forensic tests haven't even been properly vetted by members of the scientific community to prove their accuracy.

When a life is on the line, as was the case with Washington, accuracy should be a top priority for those within the criminal justice system. That's why we're sure many of our readers are hoping that some good comes out of the creation of the NIST and that forensic science is finally given a set of standards from which it must follow.

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