News 05.27.15

Fixing Forensic Science Before it Goes to Court

An article published in the

Christian Science Monitor

yesterday takes a look at some of the fallout from recent exposures of faulty forensics work which may have tainted thousands of criminal cases nationally. Specifically,

Christian Science Monitor

looks at Hinton Lab analyst Annie Dookhan who is serving a three-year prison sentence for providing false testimony and altering lab results in Massachusetts. But


penalizing analysts involved in misconduct is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to remedying the damage done by widespread faulty forensics work.

The biggest problem with forensic science in the criminal justice system is simply how it is understood and used. In

Christian Science Monitor’s

article, professor Brandon Garrett from the University of Virginia School of Law explains that forensic practices such as microscopic hair analysis are only useful “as a tool to exclude” and that “analysts often seem to do something more ambitious—identify particular people—and that is more than many of these techniques can currently accomplish.”

Additionally, experts say that there is too much trust put in forensic evidence from the sway it has on juries to the fact that defense attorneys tend to rely on state analysts instead of obtaining experts of their own.

Christian Science Monitor

writes that in the absence of any safeguards against false forensic testimony in courtrooms (which relies on the scientific literacy of judges, juries and defense attorneys), there is a push to focus on fixing the science before it even gets to court. “This is especially important since most criminal cases never see a courtroom in the first place. More than 90 percent of state and federal cases end in plea bargains, where forensic evidence is only presented in a report signed by the primary analyst,” writes

Christian Science Monitor.

Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project and member of the National Commission on Forensic Science, told

Christian Science Monitor

that the commission is looking for “gaps” in forensic research that need to be filled by with further study.

“Those are big changes,” Neufeld told

Christian Science Monitor

. “It’s the federal government really becoming involved in establishing major changes that will impact forensic science across the country.”

 


Read the full article here.

 

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