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Demystifying Accreditation A Framework for Accreditation of Forensic Units



Nicole Jones, Erin Forry, Donna J. Sirk


Accreditation is a formal recognition by an independent third party/accreditation body that a forensic service provider such as a laboratory, unit, or agency,a meets standards. A standard is a requirement or guideline used to ensure that a process or service, in this case Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), is conducted consistently within the forensic service provider by competent personnel and is fit for purpose. Forensic service providers are accredited to ISO/IEC 17020, ISO/IEC 17025 and any other relevant sector-specific standards. The accreditation process involves an audit, or assessment, which, when performed, evaluates the unit against one or both of these standards to ensure it has developed and maintains a quality system that aligns with the requirements in an ISO standard. The 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, recommended mandatory accreditation and quality control and quality assurance programs for all units or laboratories that conduct forensic science activities, including those in which police agencies and identification units engage. Accreditation of CSI Units is important because it provides assurances that quality standards are met during scene investigations—the main gateway for recognizing, recording, collecting, transporting, and storing forensic evidence, which can have a lasting impact on the analysis, interpretation, reporting of results, and ultimately, the outcome of the investigation. Accreditation gives the criminal justice system and the public confidence in a unit's competence and results and ensures that the unit has policies and procedures in place and can demonstrate the unit maintains impartiality. This is particularly important in the practice of crime scene investigation and forensic science because unlike other industries, there is no nationally mandatory regulatory approach to ensuring quality. Therefore, a voluntary standardization approach through accreditation is important for maintaining public trust, transparency, and quality of work. This report reviews the steps a CSI Unit must take to achieve accreditation, discusses the documentation framework that comprises a quality management system, and provides guidance to meet the requirements in ISO/IEC 17020 and ISO/IEC 17025 and any additional requirements included in amplification documents.
Grant/Contract Reports (NISTGCR) - NIST GCR 23-043
Report Number
NIST GCR 23-043


Accreditation, Certification, International Standards, Quality, Quality Management, Forensic Science Process, Crime Scene Examination.


Jones, N. , Forry, E. and Sirk, D. (2023), Demystifying Accreditation A Framework for Accreditation of Forensic Units, Grant/Contract Reports (NISTGCR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed May 28, 2024)


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Created October 1, 2023, Updated November 17, 2023