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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Framed by forensics

Junky, out-of-date science fuels jury errors and tragic miscarriages of justice. How can we throw it out of court?

By Douglas Starr
Aeon Magazine
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

Rivera’s case represents a tragic miscarriage of justice. Seen another way, it’s also the result of bad science and anti-scientific thinking – from the police’s coercive interview of a vulnerable person, to the jury’s acceptance of a false confession over physical evidence, including DNA.

Unfortunately, Rivera’s case is not unique. Hundreds of innocent people have been convicted by bad science, permitting an equal number of perpetrators to go free. It’s impossible to know how often this happens, but the growing number of DNA-related exonerations points to false convictions as the collateral damage of our legal system. Part of the problem involves faulty forensics: contrary to what we might see in the CSI drama shows on TV, few forensic labs are state-of-the-art, and they don’t always use scientific techniques. According to the US National Academy of Sciences, none of the traditional forensic techniques, such as hair comparison, bite-mark analysis or ballistics analysis, qualifies as rigorous, reproducible science. But it’s not just forensics: bad science is marbled throughout our legal system, from the way police interrogate suspects to the decisions judges make on whether to admit certain evidence in court.

The entire article is here.