A Wake-up Call on the Junk Science Infesting our Courtrooms
"On the popular television show 'CSI,'
forensic evidence was portrayed as glitzy, high-tech — and virtually
infallible. Unfortunately, this depiction is often a far cry from
reality. This week, a significant report
issued by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
(PCAST) persuasively explains that expert evidence based on a number of
forensic methods — such as bite mark analysis, firearms identification,
footwear analysis and microscopic hair comparisons — lacks adequate
scientific validation. Quite simply, these techniques have not yet been
proved to be reliable forms of legal proof.
The report is a much-needed wake-up call to all who care about the
integrity of the criminal-justice system. It builds upon mounting
evidence that certain types of 'forensic feature-comparison methods' may
not be as reliable as they have long appeared. A recent, unprecedented joint study
by the Innocence Project and the FBI looked at decades of testimony by
hair examiners in criminal cases — and found flaws in the testimony an
astonishing 95 percent of the time. In a number of serious felonies, DNA
testing has revealed that bite-mark evidence underpinning convictions was simply incorrect. More generally, faulty forensic evidence has been found in roughly half of all cases in which post-conviction DNA testing has led to exoneration.
What is noteworthy about the new report is that it is written solely by
eminent scientists who carefully assess forensic methods according to
appropriate scientific standards. The report finds that many forensic
techniques do not yet pass scientific muster. This strongly implies
these techniques are not ready for use in the courtroom either."
View the Report