Under Mexico’s new accusatory criminal justice system, professional and effective criminal investigations are critical to the success of law enforcement efforts and criminal prosecutions. Forensic sciences are a fundamental part of any criminal investigation, encompassing the collection, preservation and analysis of evidence. Furthermore, forensic scientists may be called upon to testify as expert witnesses during a criminal trial. To ensure that evidence presented during a criminal investigation or prosecution is sufficiently robust to withstand cross examination, it’s vital that forensics services adhere to internationally-recognized standards and protocols.
Through the Mérida Initiative, the United States Embassy in Mexico is providing tangible support to Mexican forensics services and laboratories. This support spans technical assistance to forensics laboratories to enhance their capabilities and ability to obtain international accreditation in core forensic disciplines, provision of specialized equipment to enable laboratories to be able to process and analyze evidence in support of criminal investigations, and certification of forensic scientists to international standards in six core forensic disciplines. These six core disciplines include ballistics, fingerprints, genetics/DNA, chemistry, questioned documents and crime scene investigations.
One area of focus of US government assistance is aiding Mexican forensic laboratories to achieve accreditation to ISO 17020 and ISO 17025 standards by the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) in six core disciplines – ballistics, fingerprints, genetics/DNA, chemistry, questioned documents, crime scene investigation. Accreditation is valid for three years, and ANAB revisits the facility during this period to ensure continued compliance with its standards. Since the program began in December 2015, the PGR forensics laboratory in Mexico City has achieved accreditation to ISO 17025 standards in the disciplines of ballistics, questioned documents, genetics/DNA, chemistry; and the forensics laboratory in State of Queretaro has been accredited to ISO 17020 standards in the discipline of crime scene investigation.
In April 2016, a third forensics laboratory was added to this list: the Institute for Forensic Sciences of the State of Puebla was accredited under ISO 17020 by ANAB for its Crime Scene Investigation unit. Following the presentation of the ANAB certificate of accreditation during the inauguration of the 2016 International Conference on Forensics Sciences on July 21, Eric Geelan commented on the future of the program. “We’re excited to be working with 12 forensic laboratories in Mexico to advance the professionalization and efficiency of their procedures and protocols. Our ultimate goal is to help all forensic laboratories and forensic scientists in Mexico become accredited, but in the immediate future we will be concentrating on those that have established capabilities in the core disciplines.”
The Mérida Initiative is a bilateral security cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States. Through eight years of implementation, the Mérida Initiative has led to greater cooperation between the United States and Mexico. It has provided tangible support to Mexico’s law enforcement and judicial institutions, helped to counteract the illegal trade in narcotics, and strengthened border security. To date, the Mérida Initiative has delivered more than USD 1.4 billion in equipment, training, and capacity building assistance to the government of Mexico.