News 03.12.10

Faulty Forensic Evidence Derails 1985 Murder Case

In 43% of the 251 DNA exoneration cases, DNA evidence from the crime scene not only exonerated an innocent person, but identified the real perpetrator years or decades after the crime. However, 57% of those cases have never been solved.

Steven Barnes

’ case is one of these unsolved crimes—while he served nearly 20 years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit, the real perpetrator remained free.

If authorities had not continued to pursue Barnes back in 1985, they might have found the person who raped and killed 16-year-old high school student, Kimberly Simon. Instead, the prosecution built a case against Barnes based on problematic forensic evidence. They relied on the testimony of forensic analysts who claimed that soil samples from Barnes’ truck tires resembled soil from the crime scene. Barnes remembers, “They said the soil had sand in it. Most of the soil in the county has sand in it.”

(Steven Barnes discusses the case on FOX’s

America’s Most Wanted

.)

Soil comparison is not a validated forensic technique. Neither is fabric print comparison or hair microscopy, the other two forensic disciplines used to make the case against Barnes. For background on Barnes’ case,

click here

. None of these forensic disciplines are rooted in solid science and are not subject to the same kind of scientific scrutiny as DNA testing. Nevertheless, forensic evidence has a powerful influence on jury members, who might believe that the evidence is more scientific, and more probative, than it actually is.

The National Academy of Sciences identified fundamental problems throughout the forensic science system in last year’s groundbreaking report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” and recommended the creation of a science-based federal agency to set standards, stimulate research and oversee the field. The Innocence Project is working to implement this recommendation by building a consensus for reform through the “Just Science Coalition,” a growing group of scientists, legal experts, criminal justice reform advocates, academics, law enforcement professionals and forensic science practitioners. Join the thousands of people who have signed an online petition supporting the cause at

www.just-science.org


Read more about how unvalidated or improper forensic science has contributed to half of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing

.

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