Fighting back against junk science in the courtroom

We’ve all seen television shows like “CSI,” which demonstrate that forensic science is the silver bullet in criminal investigation. Lab technicians and on-site investigators are the heroes who notice details that others might miss, using cutting-edge tests and computer analysis. These shows are so entertaining that most Americans need no convincing that forensic testing is irrefutable.

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, much of forensic “science” cannot reasonably be called science at all. And a blind faith in many of these unscientific tests has led to countless wrongful convictions. In some cases, the wrongfully convicted were even sentenced to death.

The problem of “junk science” in the courtroom has been gaining increasing attention for nearly a decade. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences issued a scathing report showing that most forensic methods had little to no scientific backing (with DNA evidence being a notable exception). Since then, more and more studies have shown certain tests to be unreliable and little more than guesswork. Examples include:

  • Bite-mark comparisons
  • Hair-sample comparisons
  • Blood-spatter analysis
  • Arson investigation
  • Fingerprint matching

Because most judges and jurors do not have a scientific background, they rely on the testimony of “expert” witnesses brought in by prosecutors. Too often, these “experts” are overly confident about the validity of their tests and the accuracy of the results. When this happens, innocent people may spend years or decades in prison.

Debunking junk science in the courtroom will not be an easy fix – nor will it be easy to correct past wrongs. But eventually, these battles can be won with persistence and a commitment to real science. In the meantime, if you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss options for appeal.

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