News 03.18.09

New Study on Forensics and Wrongful Conviction

A new law review article by Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett finds that forensic analysts often overstated evidence in wrongful conviction cases. The pair spent over a year reviewing 137 DNA exoneration cases in which a forensic analyst testified at trial, and found that in 60 percent of these cases, the forensic expert gave invalid testimony.


Watch a video

with Garrett discussing the paper, and

download the full Virginia Law Review paper

.

While conducting the research for this paper, both Garrett and Neufeld testified before the National Academy of Sciences committee that recently released a report on the need for forensic reform in the United States. The NAS report called for a new federal agency to oversee and support forensic sciences in order for the disciplines to play a more reliable role in the American court system.

The Innocence Project also recently completed a review of the role of forensic science in wrongful convictions. The review went beyond transcripts of testimony to analyze all forensic science evidence used in the cases, and found that in more than 50% of the first 225 DNA exonerations, unvalidated or improper forensics played a role in the wrongful conviction.

Learn more about the Innocence Project study here

. (PDF)

Garrett said studies like these are rare, despite the fact that the systematic review of wrongful conviction cases can reveal a great deal about the causes of wrongful conviction. 

“These trial transcripts were fascinating to read, because in retrospect we know that all of the defendants were innocent,” he said.  “Yet few have looked at these records.  Even after these wrongful convictions came to light, crime laboratories rarely conducted audits or investigations to review the forensic evidence presented at the trial.”

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