AS A MEMBER OF THE ASSOCIATION OF FIREARM AND TOOLMARK EXAMINERS, I PLEDGE MYSELF TO MAKE A FULL AND FAIR INVESTIGATION OF BOTH THE RELEVANT FACTS AND PHYSICAL EVIDENCE UNDER EXAMINATION, TO RENDER AN OPINION STRICTLY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INFORMATION OBTAINED FROM MY EXAMINATION OF THE RELEVANT FACTS AND PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, AND ONLY TO THE EXTENT JUSTIFIED BY SUCH INFORMATION, TO RENDER AN OPINION ONLY WITHIN MY FIELD OF COMPETENCE, TO MAINTAIN AN ATTITUDE OF INDEPENDENCE, IMPARTIALITY, AND CALM OBJECTIVITY, IN ORDER TO AVOW PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT IN THE PROCEEDINGS, TO CONSTANTLY SEEK TO IMPROVE MY PROFESSIONAL CAPABILITY BY EXPERIMENTATION AND STUDY AND TO IMPROVE STANDARDS AND TECHNIQUES IN THE FIELD BY MAKING AVAILABLE THE BENEFITS OF MY PROFESSIONAL ATTAINMENTS.
This code is intended to act as a guide to the ethical conduct of individual workers in the field of firearms and toolmark examination. It is not to be construed that these principles are immutable laws, nor that they are all-inclusive. Instead, they represent general standards, which each worker should strive to meet. It is to be realized that each individual case may vary, just as does the evidence with which the examiner is concerned, and no set of guidelines or rules will precisely fit every occasion. A failure to meet or maintain these standards will justifiably cast doubt upon an individual's fitness for this type of work. Serious or repeated infractions of these principles may be regarded as inconsistent with membership in the Association.
It is the duty of any person practicing the profession of firearms and toolmark examination to serve the interests of justice to the best of their ability at all times. The practitioner will use all of the scientific means at their disposal to ascertain all of the significant physical facts relative to the matters under investigation. Having made factual determinations, they must then interpret and evaluate their findings. In this, they will be guided by experience and knowledge which, coupled with an objective consideration of their analytical findings and the application of sound judgment, will enable them to arrive at opinions and conclusions pertaining to the matter under study. These findings of fact and their conclusions and opinions should then be accurately reported.
In carrying out these functions, the examiner will be guided by those practices and procedures, which are generally recognized within the profession to be consistent with a high level of professional ethics. The motives, methods and actions of the examiner shall at all times be above reproach, in good taste and consistent with proper moral conduct.
A violation of the AFTE Code of Ethics will be handled following the procedures lined out in the AFTE Procedures for the Enforcement of the Code of Ethics.
- The true scientist will make adequate examination of their material, applying those tests essential to proof. They will not, merely for the sake of bolstering their conclusions, utilize unwarranted and superfluous tests in an attempt to give apparent greater weight to their results.
- The modern scientific mind is an open one, incompatible with secrecy of method. Scientific analyses will not be conducted by “secret processes”, nor will conclusions in case work be based upon such tests and experiments that will not be revealed to the profession.
- A proper scientific method demands reliability of validity in the materials analyzed. Conclusions will not be drawn from materials which themselves appear unrepresentative, atypical or unreliable.
- A truly scientific method requires that no generally discredited or unreliable procedure be utilized in the analysis.
- The progressive worker will keep abreast of new developments in scientific methods and, in all cases, view them with an open mind. This is not to say that they need not be critical of untried or unproved methods, but they will recognize superior methods if and when they are introduced.
- Valid conclusions call for the application of generally accepted techniques.
- Tests are designed to disclose facts and all interpretations shall be consistent with that purpose and will not be knowingly distorted. Where appropriate to the correct interpretation of a test, experimental controls shall be made.
- Where test results are inconclusive or indefinite, any conclusions drawn shall be fully explained.
- The examiner is unbiased and refuses to be swayed by evidence or matters outside the specific materials under consideration. They are immune to suggestion, pressures and coercions inconsistent with the evidence at hand, being interested only in ascertaining facts.
- Scientific method demands that the individual be aware of their own limitations and refuse to extend themselves beyond them. It is both proper and advisable that the examiner seeks knowledge in new fields; they will not, however, be hasty to apply such knowledge before they have had adequate training and experience.
- Where test results are capable of being interpreted to the advantage of either side of a case, the examiner will not choose that interpretation favoring the side by which they are employed merely as a means of justifying their employment.
- It is both wise and proper that the examiner be aware of the various possible implications of their opinions and conclusions and be prepared to weigh them, if called upon to do so. In any case; however, they will clearly distinguish between that which may be regarded as scientifically demonstrated fact and that which is speculative.
- The ethical expert does not take advantage of their privilege to express opinions by offering opinions on matters within their field of qualification to which they have not given formal consideration.
- Regardless of legal definitions, the examiner will realize that there are degrees of certainty represented under the single term of "expert opinion". They will not take advantage of the general privilege to assign greater significance to an interpretation than is justified by the available data.
- Where circumstances indicate it to be proper, the expert will not hesitate to indicate that, while they have an opinion derived of study and judgment within their field, the opinion may lack the certainty of other opinions they might offer. By this or other means, they take care to leave no false impressions in the minds of the jurors or the court.
- The expert will avoid unclear, misleading, circuitous or ambiguous language that may be misconstrued or misunderstood.
- It is not the object of the examiner’s appearance in court to present only the evidence that supports the view of the side which employs him/her. The Examiner has a moral obligation to see to it that the court understands the evidence as it exists and to present it in an impartial manner.
- The examiner will not by implication, knowingly or intentionally assist the contestants in a case through such tactics as will implant a false impression.
- The examiner will answer all questions before them in a clear, straightforward manner and refuse to extend themselves beyond their field of competence.
- Any and all photographic displays shall be made according to acceptable practices, and shall not be intentionally altered or distorted with a view to mislead the court or jury.
- By way of conveying information to the court, it is appropriate that the expert witness utilize any of a variety of demonstrative materials and methods. Such methods and materials shall not, however, be unduly sensational.
- In all respects, the examiner will avoid the use of terms and opinions, which will be assigned greater weight than are due them. Where an opinion requires qualification or explanation, it is not only proper but incumbent upon the witness to offer such qualifications.
- The expert shall not exaggerate or embellish their qualifications when testifying.
- No services shall be rendered on a contingency fee basis.
- It shall be regarded as ethical for one examiner to re-examine evidence material previously submitted to or examined by another. Where a difference of opinion arises, however, as to the significance of the evidence or to the test results, it is in the interest of the profession that every effort be made by both examiners to resolve their conflict before the case goes to trial. However, work product and trial strategy may require consent of counsel.
- Generally, the principle of “attorney client” relationship is considered to apply to work of a physical evidence consultant except in a situation where a miscarriage of justice might occur. Justice should be the guiding principle.
- It shall be ethical for an examiner to serve an attorney in an advisory capacity regarding the interrogation of another expert who may be presenting testimony. This service must be performed in good faith and not maliciously. Its purpose is to prevent incompetent testimony, not to thwart justice.
- It shall be ethical to report to the appropriate authority any attempts to prejudice or conceal exculpatory evidence.
- It shall be ethical and proper for an examiner to bring to the attention of the Association a violation of any of these ethical principles. Indeed, it shall be mandatory where it appears that a serious infraction or repeated violations have been committed and where other appropriate corrective measures (if pursued) have failed.
- This Code may be used by any examiner in justification of their conduct in a given case with the understanding that they will have the full support of this Association.
- Adopted 1980
- Revised October 1986 - The Preamble was added and Section IV.IID was combined with Section IV.IIC
- Edited August 1990 - Missing words were added to Section IIE and "that" was corrected to "than" in Section IIIB
- Revised May 2009 - Added the word "relevant" to two locations in the Preamble
- Revised June 2009 - Added Section IVE-G, other minor word corrections