News 02.19.09

Forensic Problems and Wrongful Convictions – A Case Review

Yesterday, the National Academy of Sciences released a groundbreaking report calling for the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Science. Learn more about the report


and read media coverage



The Innocence Project has long advocated improved support and standards for the forensic sciences used everyday in the U.S. We analyze every DNA exoneration to determine what factors contributed to the wrongful conviction and how the criminal justice system can be improved in the future.

We have refined how we define and document forensic problems as a factor in wrongful convictions that were overturned with DNA testing, and we now track cases where unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to wrongful convictions.

The Innocence Project defines unvalidated or improper forensic science as:

•   the use of forensic disciplines or techniques that have not been tested to establish their validity and reliability;

•   testimony about forensic evidence that presents inaccurate statistics, gives statements of probability or frequency (whether numerical or non-numerical) in the absence of valid empirical data, interprets non-probative evidence as inculpatory, or concludes/suggests that evidence is uniquely connected to the defendant without empirical data to support such testimony; or

•   misconduct, either by fabricating inculpatory data or failing to disclose exculpatory data.

Among all DNA exonerations nationwide, unvalidated or improper forensic science was a factor in approximately 50% of the underlying wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project made determinations about which cases meet this definition based on trial transcripts and other official sources. In many instances, experts in forensic science and the law were consulted in making these determinations.

Click here for more on this case review, including the underlying data of the 116 wrongful convictions caused in part by unvalidated or improper forensic science


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