AFTE Response to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Report titled “Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods.” - October 31, 2016
As the leading professional organization for practitioners of forensic firearm identification, the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE) acknowledges the challenge faced by the PCAST to understand the scientific field of comparative sciences from their stated brief review of the literature. AFTE strongly agrees with the premise that additional ongoing structured research strengthens the foundational and applied validity of firearm identification, as well as endeavors to reduce the effects of cognitive bias and subjectivity. However, we cannot overstate our disappointment in the PCAST’s choice to ignore the research that has been conducted.
AFTE Response to Seven Questions Related to Forensic Science Posed on November 30, 2015 by The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) - December 23, 2015
Comments on NCFS Views Document: "Scientific Literature in Support of Forensic Science and Practice." - November 19, 2014
The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) posted six (6) draft views documents for public review and comment on the Commission’s website in October of 2014. These documents offered proposed policies and positions regarding various aspects of forensic science and practice. One of these documents was entitled “Scientific Literature in Support of Forensic Science and Practice” and detailed six (6) NCFS criteria for foundational, scientific literature supportive of forensic practice. Following the public comment period, this document was voted on and adopted as a final work product, virtually unchanged, by the NCFS Scientific Inquiry and Research Subcommittee, on January 30, 2015. Due to this document’s potentially far-reaching influence regarding the perceived propriety and academic soundness of the AFTE Journal and articles published therein, the AFTE Board of Directors and Editorial Committee decided to issue a response. To that end, the following response was posted by AFTE President Katherine Richert on the NCFS website on November 19, 2014, during the public comment period.
SWGGUN and AFTE Committee for the Advancement of the Science of Firearm and Toolmark Identification’s Response to 25 Foundational Firearm and Toolmark Examination Questions Received from the Subcommittee on Forensic Science (SoFS), Research, Development, Testing, & Evaluation Interagency Working Group (RDT&E IWG) on April 18, 2011. - June 14, 2011
On June 14, 2011, AFTE submitted a 94 page response to 25 foundational questions on firearm and toolmark examination submitted by the Subcommittee on Forensic Science (SoFS), Research, Development, Testing, & Evaluation Interagency Working Group (RDT&E IWG). This response, from both SWGGUN and The Committee for the Advancement of the Science of Firearm & Toolmark Identification, consisted of a compilation of numerous references, with abstracts, that they felt provided the scientific underpinnings of forensic firearm and toolmark identification.
The SoFS RDT&E IWG felt that if a forensic specialty, like firearm and toolmark identification, could respond to their 25 questions by providing sound, peer-reviewed, references that they probably rested on firm scientific underpinnings. AFTE was one of the first, if not the first, to provide an underpinning compilation list to the RDT&E IWG. While the SoFS RDT&E IWG intended to have someone evaluate these articles to determine whether or not they actually did provide a firm scientific underpinning. However, despite good intentions, they were not able to have this evaluation done prior to the expiration of their charter.
The purpose of this response, was to comment on the seven areas addressed in the “Preliminary Position Statements and Recommendations as necessary for the Forensic Science System to produce Accurate and Reliable Science, and hence Fair and Accurate Verdicts, in our Courtrooms” adopted by the NACDL November 7, 2009. The seven areas are: 1) central, science based agency; 2) culture of science; 3) research; 4) education; 5) transparency; 6) discovery; and 7) defense resources. After commenting on all of these areas, AFTE expressed the hope that their comments would be seriously considered by NACDL, and expressed confidence that if they are, NACDL would conclude that a well-grounded culture of science pervades the forensic discipline of firearm and toolmark examination and identification.
The Response of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners to the February 2009 National Academy of Science Report "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United State: A Path Forward." - June 22, 2009
The National Academy of Science Report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” made 13 general recommendations regarding Forensic Science. Six of these recommendations directly relate to AFTE. Activities conducted by AFTE and SWGGUN already meet certain conditions of these six recommendations and are fully described in this response. The NAS report briefly critiqued firearm and toolmark identification directly; however, as stated on page S-5 of the report, a detailed evaluation by the NAS was not feasible. The critiques are addressed in this response even though it is evident that the NAS did not look critically at the scientific underpinning of firearm and toolmark identification despite having been provided with hundreds of relevant references.
The Response of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners to the National Academy of Sciences 2008 Report Assessing the Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics Database - August 20, 2008
This response was written mainly to comment on three conclusions made in a March 2008 report issued by a National Academy of Sciences Committee whose main function was to study ballistics imaging technology. These conclusions addressed: 1) whether or not the validity of the fundamental assumptions of the uniqueness and reproducibility of firearms related toolmarks has been demonstrated; 2) whether additional general research on the uniqueness and reproducibility of firearm related toolmarks should be done; and 3) whether conclusions drawn in firearms identifications should be stated to imply the presence of a firm statistical basis. With regard to: conclusion 1; AFTE feels that the fundamental assumptions of the uniqueness and reproducibility of firearms related toolmarks has been demonstrated: conclusion 2; AFTE feels that while continuing research and empirical testing is a fundamental part of any scientific forensic discipline, sufficient basis currently exists to warrant conclusions of toolmark identification; and conclusion 3; while AFTE agrees with the conclusion that absolute statements of toolmark identification, “to the total exclusion of all other tools” is unwarranted, the implication that there is no statistical basis for toolmark identification is also unwarranted.