Forensic science is organized into a number of disciplines, all of which require specific expertise in one or more areas of the natural sciences.
As scientific study becomes more sophisticated and developed, the role of the forensic scientist continues to take on a more significant role in crime scene investigation. And because of the complexity of forensic science and the many areas of study within this field, the need to establish and maintain professional standards has never been greater.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that professional certification in forensic science is commonplace and advancement in the profession is often dependent upon it.
The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC), which was formed to represent the forensic scientist, now offers certification, proficiency testing, and serves as a voice for current issues and topics. The ABC was the first certification body accredited by the Forensic Specialty Accreditation Board.
Individuals may achieve professional certification in comprehensive criminalistics, as well as in specialty areas and disciplines, including:
- Molecular Biology
- Drug Chemistry
- Fire Debris Analysis
- Trace Evidence
Certification through the ABC can be achieved at one of three levels:
- Diplomate: To achieve diplomate status, individuals must possess a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or an appropriately related field and at least two years of full-time experience
- Fellow: To achieve fellow status, individuals must meet all the requirements for a diplomate and successfully complete the Comprehensive Criminalistics Examination.
- Affiliate: The affiliate status is not a certified status; instead, individuals are certification eligible upon filing for an ABC Request for Promotion from Affiliate to diplomate and having it approved by the Credentials Committee.
The International Association for Identification (IAI) is a standard-setting association that offers a number of certification programs for forensic scientists, all of which require the completion of a demanding educational program and strict certification requirements. All designations are administered by a certification board that is comprised of experts in the specific discipline:
- Bloodstain Pattern Analyst Certification
- Footwear Certification
- Forensic Art Certification
- Forensic Photography Certification
- Forensic Video Certification
- Latent Print Certification
- Tenprint Fingerprint Certification
The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) is a certification board that was established to promote high standards for the practice of medicolegal death investigators. There are two levels of certification available through the ABMDI:
- Basic Registry Certification: Basic Registry Certification provides recognition for individuals who have acquired basic knowledge and have demonstrated basic proficiency in medicolegal death investigation. To achieve Basic Registry Certification, candidates must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a high school diploma
- Be currently employed as a medical examiner or coroner with the job responsibility of conducting death scene investigations and meet specific experience requirements
- Advanced Board Certification: Advanced Board Certification provides recognition for individuals who have demonstrated mastery of all aspects of medicolegal death investigation. To achieve Advanced Board Certification, candidates must:
- Be currently certified at the ABMDI registry level and in good standing for at least 6 months
- Possess an associate’s degree
- Be currently employed as a medical examiner or coroner with the job responsibility of conducting scene investigation
- Have at least 4,000 hours of experience in the past 6 years
The American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT) provides certification for forensic toxicologists to identify individuals who possess qualifications and competence in forensic toxicology, and certification is based on education, training, experience, achievement, and passing a written examination.
Certification through the ABFT may be achieved at one of two levels:
- Diplomate: Applicants for a diplomate designation must possess a Doctor of Philosophy or a Doctor of Science degree in one of the natural sciences, an undergraduate education in biology or chemistry, training in pharmacology or toxicology, and at least 3 years of full-time professional experience in specific categories.
- Specialist: Certification as a forensic toxicology specialist requires a bachelor’s degree in one of the natural sciences, with an adequate education in biology and chemistry, which may include pharmacy or toxicology. This designation also requires at least 3 years of full-time experience in forensic toxicology.
The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) certifies highly qualified forensic document examiners in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Applicants are expected to be of the highest caliber in terms of moral character and professional integrity, and must meet theses requirements:
- Actively working in the field and able to provide a record of professional activity
- Bachelor’s degree at minimum from an ABFDE-appointed institution or its equivalent
- Two years of training in an ABFDE-recognized forensic laboratory
- Character reference letters from three ABFDE-certified forensic document examiners
After earning passing scores on the ABFDE written, practical and oral examinations, candidates would then be qualified to hold the Diplomate of the ABFDE credential.
The Board of Forensic Document Examiners (BDFE) offers certification for forensic document examiners who meet specific education and training requirements. Candidates for certification must:
- Possess a bachelor’s degree
- Furnish two letters of recommendation
- Be currently working in the profession on a regular basis
- Have access to minimal laboratory equipment
The certification process involves the successful completion of a multiple-choice examination that is designed to assess an individual’s discipline-specific knowledge.
The International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences serves as the certification board for professionals who possess specialty in the forensic engineering sciences. Candidates for certification must:
- Possess a bachelor’s, master or doctorate degree in one of the engineering sciences
- Possess at least 3 years of experience in personal forensic experience in the litigation process
Candidates for certification must undergo a peer review, as well as a written and oral examination.
The American Board of Forensic Odontology establishes and revises the standards of qualifications for individuals who practice forensic odontology and offers certification to individuals who meet the requirements of the Board.
Candidates for certification with the ABFO must:
- Possess a DDS, DMD, or an equivalent dental degree
- Have attended at least four annual meetings of a national forensic dental organization
- Have participated in at least two annual programs of a national forensic dental organization
- Be currently affiliated with, and an active member of, a medical/legal agency, such as a medical examiner or coroner’s office, law enforcement agency, or insurance agency
The American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA) provides diplomate certification for individuals who possess specific qualifications in forensic anthropology and meet the standards of the ABFA.
Diplomates in the ABFA must be able to demonstrate an ongoing record of activities in forensic anthropology. This certification is based on a record of education, training, experience, and achievement, and candidates must be able to complete a rigorous examination that assesses both theory and practice.