In Today’s “Room for Debate” column of the
New York Times
, Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, weighs in on the question, “How can forensic science be made more dependable and professional?” Neufeld says that the first step to making forensics more reliable is to put them through rounds of scientific research, citing the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report on forensic practices, which said that with the exception of DNA, no forensic method has been scientifically proven to be reliable in linking people to crime.
As the Innocence Project’s review of D.N.A. exonerations shows, unvalidated or the improper use of forensic science contributed to
of the 329 wrongful convictions overturned by D.N.A testing. For years, despite lacking a proper scientific foundation, many forensic practitioners have offered either unvalidated evidence or grossly exaggerated the value of the evidence, particularly in forensic disciplines that examined pattern, impression and trace evidence, e.g comparison of
shoe prints, bullets
. . . .
The problem, however, will not be cured by reliance on D.N.A. testing for most cases, there is no biology to test. But the other forensic disciplines never underwent the extensive basic and applied research, voluminous peer review and Food and Drug Administration approval because, unlike D.N.A., they never had a clinical application. They were primarily developed by law enforcement solely for criminal investigation. . . .
. . . [S]ince more than 95 percent of cases end in plea bargains or dismissals and do not go to trial, we must make forensics more dependable upstream, before the cases come to court, through hard research like we had with D.N.A. . . .
If defendants, victims and the public are to have confidence in the quality of forensic evidence – in the quality of justice – then nothing less will do.