If television is to be believed, the most cutting-edge forensic technology can definitively prove a criminal defendant’s guilt. But, inside the courtroom, it’s a different story. Over the past several years, forensic science presented during trial has come under severe scrutiny.
In September, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a scathing report on the use of forensic analysis in the criminal-justice system. Certain evidence—like DNA and chemical analyses—have quantifiable scientific reliability. But other forensic evidence techniques—such as fingerprint, bite mark, shoe print, blood splatter, and hair analysis—are severely flawed.
According to an article in the Washington Post, “the problem is that all of these fields are inherently subjective. They rely not on scientific analysis or mathematical computations but on the judgment of the analysts.” Thus, “the amount of weight a jury typically gives to evidence from these fields of forensics depends far more on the persuasiveness of the expert witnesses than on the evidence itself.” Further, “most forensics fields were invented and developed by people with backgrounds in law enforcement, not in science.” The 19 PCAST members are all scientists.
Given the explosive new findings, one would expect the government to step back and reassess the potential flaws in the evidence they present to juries. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has pushed back. The Justice Department has explicitly denounced the report, and the prospects for reform look slim. Certainly many have been wrongly jailed and many more will follow.
The attorneys at Miller, Butler, Schneider, Pawlik, & Rozzell, PLLC, regularly monitor updates in the scientific and criminal justice fields and are prepared to assist criminal defendants anywhere. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today!