Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blinded By Junk Science, For Real

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a forthcoming National Academy of Sciences report that was set to turn the world of forensic science on its ear. Well, it's here and it did.

It's hard to tell what the entirety of the report has to say (it's available here for sale), but the press release gets to the basics:

Forensic evidence is often offered in criminal prosecutions and civil litigation to support conclusions about individualization — in other words, to 'match' a piece of evidence to a particular person, weapon, or other source. But with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, the report says, no forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.
Several of the other folks in the criminal defense blogosphere have intelligent things to say about what this means. Scott at Simple Justice puts it plainly:
In other words, everything that was taken as true, as real, as a necessary and inherent part of almost every criminal case, is no longer worthy of scientific reliance. From drug tests to strange little black boxes that magically provide evidence that convicts people, the entire forensics paradigm is now suspect. They aren't saying that science doesn't work, or that science isn't real. They are saying that the science used in courtroom across our nation is not trustworthy.
Or, as Gideon even more succinctly puts it:
The NAS just called 'bullshit' on many of the forensic techniques used in labs across the country.
This should be huge news nationwide, but I'm afraid it will get lost in the shuffle of bad economic news, a ramp up in troop levels in Afghantistan, and other such trifles. I know defense attorneys will make the most of what the report has to say, but will the powers that be - prosecutors, governors, attorney generals - really get the message? They're the ones that need to hear it the most.

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