Potential Unintended Consequences of the Movement Toward Forensic Laboratory Independence

Edward Maguire, William R. King, William Wells, Charles Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The scholarly literature identifies two types of errors of justice: errors of due process and errors of impunity. Errors of due process involve failing to protect the innocent from becoming ensnared in the criminal justice process or imposing excessive sanctions on offenders. Errors of impunity involve failing to sanction, or imposing insufficient sanctions, on culpable offenders. The great challenge in designing criminal justice systems is balancing these two types of errors. We contend that the National Research Council’s recent recommendation to remove crime laboratories from law enforcement agencies in the United States focuses too heavily on avoiding one type of error while largely ignoring the other. We believe that heeding this recommendation without appropriate caution might produce an imbalance that generates serious unintended consequences. We draw on recent studies of how crime labs and law enforcement agencies process sexual assault kits and ballistic evidence to illustrate the potential unintended consequences of separating crime labs from law enforcement agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-292
Number of pages21
JournalPolice Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 28 2015


  • crime laboratories
  • criminal investigation
  • errors of justice
  • forensic science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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