Skip to content

The Costs and Benefits of Forensics

Journal: Houston Law Review
Published: 2020
Primary Author: Brandon L. Garrett

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that states can be laboratories for experimentation in law and policy. Disappointingly, however, the actual laboratories that states and local governments run are not a home for experimentation. We do not have adequate information about either the costs or the benefits of forensic testing or allocation of resources. Increased spending and expansion of crime laboratories has perversely accompanied growing backlogs. Poor quality control has resulted in a series of audits and even closures of crime laboratories. In response to these problems, however, some laboratories and some entire states have developed new approaches toward oversight. In this Article, I will describe the growth of crime labs and the resources dedicated to them, but also the backlogs that have resulted from far too much in the way of quantity. Second, I will discuss the problem of resource allocation in forensics, including the differing perspectives and interests of police and forensic agencies that should both be taken into account. Third, I will describe quality control challenges that have accompanied the explosion in the use of forensics. Fourth, I will describe how regulation could better address both resource allocation and quality control, as well as how the Houston Forensic Science Center has become a model for regulating both the quality and the quantity of forensics. Finally, I will ask why the federal government has not done more to help improve the quality of forensics even as it has helped to encourage overwhelming and unnecessary quantity.

Related Resources

How Can a Forensic Result Be a ‘Decision’? A Critical Analysis of Ongoing Reforms of Forensic Reporting Formats for Federal Examiners

How Can a Forensic Result Be a ‘Decision’? A Critical Analysis of Ongoing Reforms of Forensic Reporting Formats for Federal Examiners

The decade since the publication of the 2009 National Research Council report on forensic science has seen the increasing use of a new word to describe forensic results. What were…
Psychometric Analysis of Forensic Examiner Behavior

Psychometric Analysis of Forensic Examiner Behavior

Forensic science often involves the comparison of crime-scene evidence to a known-source sample to determine if the evidence and the reference sample came from the same source. Even as forensic…
Implementation of a Blind Quality Control Program in a Forensic Laboratory

Implementation of a Blind Quality Control Program in a Forensic Laboratory

A blind quality control (QC) program was successfully developed and implemented in the Toxicology, Seized Drugs, Firearms, Latent Prints (Processing and Comparison), Forensic Biology, and Multimedia (Digital and Audio/Video) sections…
CSAFE 2020 All Hands Meeting

CSAFE 2020 All Hands Meeting

The 2020 All Hands Meeting was held May 12 and 13, 2020 and served as the closing to the last 5 years of CSAFE research and focused on kicking off…
Do you have 44.03 seconds?

44.3 Seconds. That is the average amount of time it takes for a visitor to provide site feedback.
Test it yourself by taking the survey.


A scientist/researcherA member of the forensic science communityA journalist/publicationA studentOther. Please indicate.


Learn more about CSAFE overall.Discover research CSAFE is undertaking.Explore collaboration opportunities.Find tools and education opportunities.Other. Please indicate.


YesNo