We have all heard the saying, “not all that glitters is gold,” and when it comes to selecting and retaining a forensic expert, you want the real deal. When you are hiring any type of expert – forensic or otherwise – you should thoroughly vet any expert you wish to retain.
The world of digital and multimedia evidence (DME) is an ever-changing landscape. So how do you properly vet a forensic expert that you may want to retain for an upcoming case? We will be looking at several key indicators and sources of information to see how your expert stacks up.
Does Your Forensic Expert Have a Detailed CV?
A CV or Curriculum Vitae is like a résumé but is a bit more detailed in listing specific skills and training. This is a snapshot of skills, training, education and career on paper. When reviewing a CV, everything presented should be verifiable by certificates, degrees or some other mechanism.
Pay attention to:
- Present and past employers
- Certifications and degrees (confirming institution, expiration, etc.)
- Training specific to forensic and classes taken, preferably listing instructor, date and number of hours attended.
- Be cautious if the only training documented on the CV was conferences or seminar training. Don’t get me wrong, there is some great training available at conferences, but a single 2-hour lecture does not an expert make!
- When was the last training taken? For example, if the last forensic video analysis class attended was in 2003 – there have been more than a few advances since then. As a general rule, a forensics expert should take at least 20-40 hours of continuing education related to their field every year.
- Be cautious of experts with only TV and movie credits on their CV. Just because CNN, ABC or Sony Pictures recognizes you as an expert does not mean your scientific peer group does.
Does Your Forensic Expert Participate in the Forensics Community?
There are many scientific forensic organizations focused on quality, reliability, and technological advances in the field of forensics. Some of these groups are open to law enforcement only, but many are a partnership of government and private forensics practitioners. Has your expert been a member of any of these organizations? Is their membership still active? Have they ever been on a committee or participated in the generation of documents within these groups?
Absence of membership in groups alone should not completely undermine the credibility of your potential expert, however it should cause you to review more thoroughly the other aspects of their qualifications. Likewise, membership in an alphabet soup collection of organizations alone should not automatically move them to the top of your list. Take the time to do a little research into the organization, their membership criteria, publications, etc. If you need more information, ask your expert to speak to how they joined and what roles they played within the group.
Is Your Expert Certified in a Forensic Discipline?
Certifications are awarded to experts who have been vetted by an organization or group for the fundamental knowledge of a particular field, often resulting in the demonstration of this knowledge in a practical test or exam. There are two main types of certification: Vendor/Tool Specific and Discipline Specific Certification.
- Vendor/Tool Specific Certification:
This training and subsequent certification typically involves a specific tool or set of tools. These courses of instruction typically run from 2-5 days in length. Generally, there is some background academic information provided on how/why the tool operates the way it does at a base level. The focus of the training and certification is on how to properly use the tool under typical operation conditions. Some of these courses have written and practical tests, while some provide a “certificate” for merely attending.
- Discipline Specific Certification:
This type of certification is more rigorous and involved. This type of certification is typically provided by a not-for-profit or independent entity related to a specific discipline within the forensic community. These certification programs typically will include at a minimum:
- A degree requirement and/or a minimum number of years in a specific field.
- A minimum number of academic hours of study within a given field, typically 120 – 180 hours.
- Letters of reference from members in the professional community, typically two.
- Some form of written test to evaluate the applicant’s understanding of core concepts and information.
- Some form of practical test to evaluate the applicant’s ability to use discipline specific knowledge to solve problems and derive results from test materials with a known outcome.
- Some certification programs also require the applicant to defend their work in front of a board of certified individuals. This is to assess the applicant’s ability to accurately and properly communicate scientific concepts and their findings to other individuals.
There are still some organizations out there where an individual can simply take a very minimal online “course of study” and pay a fee for “certification” in a specific field. When evaluating your forensic expert, it is important to do some research about the organization that offered the certification. Almost all reputable certification programs will post on their web page the names and expiration dates of all certified individuals and provide the minimum standards for the confirmation of certification.