The Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence may sound dry, but considering that it's used by judges across the country in weighing expert testimony and scientific evidence produced at trial, the release of a new edition for the first time in 10 years is big news.
Now in its third edition since 1994, the manual is developed by the Federal Judicial Center and National Research Council. The latest edition, which is available for free online, is 1,038 pages, and features several new chapters on scientific evidence that weren't available 10 years ago.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, served as co-chair of the committee that oversaw the new manual's production. She said the text is designed to serve as a go-to-guide for judges presented with requests to enter expert testimony.
“The point is to give judges enough undisputed scientific background so that when the lawyers start filing all those motions, to either admit expert testimony or exclude expert testimony, that judge has the fundamentals under her belt, on the basis of proper science,” she said in a phone interview.
Kessler said the latest edition includes new chapters detailing advances in neuroscience research and on the especially hot topic of forensic science. The forensic science chapter details new advances in research on handwriting, microscopic hair and fingerprint evidence.
“It raises very significant questions about…some of the specific tests on which we have relied in the judiciary for many, many years,” she said.
Kessler co-chaired the committee with Jerome Kassirer, a professor with the Tufts University School of Medicine. The manual went through an “incredible review process,” according to Kessler, including a review by the committee, by internal reviewers at the National Academy of Science, an external review by experts outside of the academy, and a final review by U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.
The Legal Times’ sister publication, Law Technology News, reported yesterday that the committee decided against including a chapter on computer science, but aims to include one the next time around.