“Forensic DNA Analysis and Use of DNA Evidence: Challenges in Practice” Conference Remarks

Good morning, thank you all very much for the invitation to speak here today.

The U.S. Embassy is proud to partner with the Supreme Court of Cassation as a co-sponsor of this conference.  The U.S. Department of Justice and USAID have had a long and fruitful partnership with Serbia’s judiciary and police.

They say “crime never sleeps.”  In this day and era, we need to constantly keep up to date with the latest techniques and technologies in our efforts to combat crime, as criminals are often on the cutting edge using modern technology to carry out their crimes.  That is why ongoing education of judges, prosecutors, and police is critical to staying ahead of criminals.  So I want to congratulate all of you for participating in today’s event, which is part of a broader effort of cooperation by the United States Government that includes the Department of Justice’s legal-writing training, a focus on training to improve trial-management skills and judicial efficiency.  USAID has also provided direct support to the Judicial Academy to strengthen Serbia’s system for the continuing education of judges, judicial assistants, public enforcement officers and State’s Attorneys.

Serbia’s strategic goal is EU accession.  We support you in this.  A big part of that process is promoting the rule of law.  The goal is a judiciary that functions efficiently, fairly, and independently.  Efficient so that  courts are able to resolve disputes in a reasonable amount of time.  Fair so that decisions will be based on the merits of the case, not who you know or how much influence you wield.  And independent so that prosecutors and judges are empowered to follow the evidence no matter where it leads.

This issue transcends all politics and, for that matter, EU accession.

Change begins with small steps, with you, your attitude, and your work.  This conference focuses on something new for many of us: the latest trends in the use of DNA and forensic evidence, and how DNA evidence is being used in investigations involving transnational organized crimes, drug trafficking, human smuggling, trafficking in persons, border crimes, and terrorism.  We’ve all seen CSI, and its Hollywood portrayal of science and DNA evidence in crime-fighting.  And some of it is even true!  But as judges and prosecutors, you know that it is a major step from using DNA to identify a criminal to using it effectively in a court of law to win a conviction.

With this in mind, I want to commend President Milojević for having the foresight to recognize the importance of this topic as Serbia continues to modernize its judiciary.  To support this effort, I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Embassy will be donating 20 textbooks on the use of DNA evidence to various courts and prosecutors’ offices to be used by practitioners.

I want to thank all those who are here today in support of the conference, including representatives from Serbia, Croatia, and the United States.  I want to extend a special welcome to Dr. Dragan Primorac, who not only is a scientist and academic expert in this field, but as a public servant has also committed himself to bringing members of the Serbian and Croatian judiciary closer.

As I understand it, there is an ongoing discussion here in Serbia about how to best use expert witnesses, and whether prosecutors should be permitted to call their own experts to testify at trial.  Based on our experience, allowing prosecutors to call their own experts at trial should be encouraged, as it is better for overall judicial efficiency and transparency.

But I’m just a diplomat, and certainly not an expert in this subject matter.  Later in today’s program, one of the guest speakers will be providing an overview of U.S. practice with respect to expert witnesses.  I hope you will use that session to hold an open and lively discussion on this topic as Serbia continues to modernize its approach to criminal prosecution and adjudication.

In closing, let me repeat that we are very pleased to co-sponsor this conference, and that together with the Supreme Court of Cassation we can provide a forum where Serbian, Croatian, and American practitioners can come together and discuss important issues.  We look forward to continuing our cooperation with all elements of the police and judicial branches, and I wish all of you a productive and educational conference.  Good luck!