An editorial in the Birmingham News makes a strong case for federal oversight and support of forensic science across the U.S. – especially in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the
case, the court ruled 5-4 that defendants have a right to cross-examine experts who conduct forensic tests in their case.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, says “serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used at criminal trials.” The Birmingham News editorial agrees that there are major problems with forensic science and calls for the creation of the National Institute of Forensic Science, a reform recommended in the recent National Academy of Sciences report on forensics and supported by the Innocence Project.
In our view, cross-examining forensic scientists is only a partial answer to the problem.
Congress needs to follow the advice of the National Academy of Sciences report — specifically, to create an agency that can evaluate and improve these scientific techniques in criminal cases, set standards for their use and provide better oversight for practitioners and labs.
This is not just about making sure people aren't wrongly convicted of crimes, although that's part of it. Juries have often been led to believe that forensic tests on things like bullets and hairs are more authoritative than they are. Some people are sitting on Alabama's Death Row right now based largely on this kind of untested science. Even fingerprint identification has proved in some cases to be wrong.
Read the full editorial here
. (Birmingham News, 07/02/09)