Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Every attorney practicing Criminal Law needs to be aware that Testimony provided by Government Experts is often riddled with error. And error leads to the worst thing that can happen in criminal law, wrongful convictions.
 A new book, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward shows the failure of many crime labs to abide by scientific standards. Here are a few of their findings:

Forensic labs "lack mandatory and enforceable standards, founded on vigorous research and testing, certification requirements, and accreditation. Additionally, forensic science and forensic pathology research, education, and training lack strong ties to our research universities and national science assets.  ...  In addition to the problems emanating from the fragmentation of the forensic science community, the most recently published Census of Crime Laboratories conducted by BJS describes unacceptable case backlogs in state and local crime laboratories."  Due to documented understaffing, the NRC found that makes it difficult for the labs to avoid errors.  They find the standards of forensic practice in need of serious upgrading.  Of greater concern than that they are understaffed is the "knowledge base" problem; "Adding more dollars and people to the enterprise may reduce case backlogs, but it will not address fundamental limitations in the capabilities of forensic science disciplines to discern valid information from crime scene evidence."

Forensic "science " research is hap-hazard, and they criticize it being driven by "professional [i,e., LEO] cultures" with a "reliance on apprentice-type training and a guide-like structure of disciplines." -- "The fragmented nature of the enterprise raises the worrisome prospect that the quality of evidence presented in court, and its interpretation, can vary unpredictably according to jurisdiction." The forensic science community lacks central governance to pull itself out of its current weaknesses, and none of the disciplines sees any need for change -- though NRC does -- they are certain that DOJ and the FBI should not be the seat of that governing body though: "There is little doubt that some existing federal entities are too wedded to the current 'fragmented' forensic science community, which is deficient in too many respects.  Most notably, those agencies fail to produce a rigorous research agenda to confirm the evidence reliability methodologies used."

Now they know what we always knew: it's like science, but not always real science with the rigors and tests of reliability real science requires; leading to real errors as well as   erroneous interpretation of results in testimony. It's also important to note that even fingerprint evidence is often unreliable and DNA evidence can be fabricated, with the government often providing false forensics testimony.