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Criminal Justice Magazine
Winter 2004
Volume 18 Number 4

National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology, and the Law

By S. Elizabeth Miller, Anjali Swienton, and Jeff Chesen

S. Elizabeth Miller is the director of research, Jeff Chesen is the senior staff researcher, and Anjali R. Swienton is the director of outreach at the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology, and the Law at Stetson College of Law, Gulfport, Florida. Swienton is also president and CEO of SciLawForensics, Ltd., Germantown, Maryland.

Each week millions of television viewers watch fictional crime scene investigators collect and analyze forensic evidence, solve crimes, and vindicate victims. In the real world, criminal lawyers face new legal challenges as emerging investigative techniques and scientific technologies find their ways to the courtroom. In the real world, such challenges cannot be solved in a neat, one-hour episode.

“Scientists, lawyers, and judges are overwhelmed by the amount of information required to keep pace with new developments in science and technology,” says Carol Henderson, an internationally recognized expert in scientific evidence and expert testimony. In cooperation with the National Institute of Justice, Henderson, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University and a visiting professor at Stetson University College of Law in Florida, has proposed a solution: the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law, established in August 2003 at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida. “The National Clearinghouse will help lawyers and judges alike to access the most current information and make informed decisions regarding forensic evidence and technology,” Henderson says.

A comprehensive collection

The clearinghouse will serve as a central location for access to law, science, and technology material. Twenty student researchers at Stetson and Nova have joined Henderson and her team to create a comprehensive bibliography of court decisions, scholarly publications, books, journals, articles, and other resources in cutting-edge fields of law and science.

“We’re creating a resource to help lawyers, judges, law clerks, law enforcement, and laboratory personnel find data that can help them prepare their cases,” Henderson said.

Informing the world

The information gathered will be made available online and in a searchable CD-ROM. The CD will include resources on topics such as biometrics, DNA, questioned documents, and forensic odontology. It will also include bibliographic references to case law, scientific journals, law review and bar journal articles, broadcast programs, professional organizations, conference abstracts and proceedings, and dissertations.

Available in early 2004, the CD was developed under a cooperative agreement between the National Institute of Justice and the National Forensic Science and Technology Center in Largo, Florida. This data collection also will serve as the pilot for a comprehensive online resource that will make bibliographic information on science and technology available worldwide.

The clearinghouse will establish a reference collection at Stetson’s Law Library and Information Center. Anyone may use the collection free of charge or obtain collection materials through interlibrary loan.

Continuing education

The clearinghouse will call on experts in various forensic disciplines to contribute to the creation of numerous training modules in a wide array of forensic topics. These modules will be used to train scientists in the unique legal aspects related to the admissibility of their particular disciplines, as well as to provide attorneys with basic information to prepare them for presenting the evidence in court. The modules will be developed for delivery via distance education and will be made available to the community at large.

Science in the classroom

Despite the fact that attorneys frequently cite scientific evidence, Henderson says most lawyers have little scientific education. Studies show that only 5.3 percent of law school applicants have majored in the natural sciences. The work of the clearinghouse will help offset that shortcoming. In addition, Professor Henderson has prepared a scientific evidence course for Stetson University College of Law. Students will view an autopsy, learn to process a crime scene, depose an expert witness, argue a motion in limine, and cross-examine an expert. Guest speakers will discuss document examination, pathology, fingerprint examination, and other courtroom science topics.

New partnerships

Partnerships with other law schools and federal and state agencies will be an essential part of the clearinghouse’s collaborative work. Stetson will cosponsor the National Conference on Science and the Law, March 14–17, 2004, in Tampa, along with the National Institute of Justice and the West Virginia University, Forensic Science Initiative. Among other cosponsors is the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section.

For more information on the clearinghouse or for a copy of the CD-ROM, call Director Carol Henderson at (727) 562–7316 or e-mail watson@law.stetson.edu.


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