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February 20, 2009

Shoddy Science Used to Convict

Crimelab A report published by the National Academy of Sciences this week is devastating to the current practices of forensic science that are routinely used to convict across the United States.

It turns out that these methods, including fingerprinting, bite mark identification, and ballistics, are not reliable; practitioners testifying in court have little scientific basis for claiming they are accurate. These "experts" have essentially bootstrapped their hunches into accepted testimony by mutually agreeing that their methods work. And on the basis of their testimony, thousands of people have been convicted and some executed.

In addition, some police labs have had to be closed because they were not even running the tests but merely reporting the results that would help convict the person the police had chosen as the perpetrator. These scandals in crime labs involve hundreds of tainted cases handled by police agencies in Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia, and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At least 10 wrongly convicted men have been exonerated as a result of those laboratory investigations, and the cases of hundreds of other people convicted with the help of those facilities are under review.

For more on wrongful convictions, see Justice Fellowship’s Protecting the Innocent Resource Page.

(Image © Gothamist)

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Pat wrote: "In addition, some police labs have had to be closed because they were not even running the tests but merely reporting the results that would help convict the person the police had chosen as the perpetrator."

(sarcasm ON)
Now wait just a minute!! Over in Regis's Darwin thread, we've had people argue that scientists are a noble and unimpeachable subspecies of humanity - unlike, say, religious people. Does this result mean that the *scientists* in forensic labs are susceptible to sin, just like everyone else?
(sarcasm OFF)

I certainly won't watch "CSI" quite the same way ever again.

Oh, and welcome to the funhouse, Pat!

Jason Taylor

Abby Scuito on NCIS wouldn't do that.

Neither would Charlie Eppes on Numbers. He would have an algorithim to solve everything.

Rachel Coleman

You know why this information came to light? It's because Eric Holder exhorted Americans not to be cowards about matters of race!

Oh dear, Lee Quod, your sarcasm machine malfunctions when I try to use it.

Seriously, it will be ... interesting ... to see how these revelations line up with racial statistics and assumptions.


Those wrongfully convicted ought to be the recipients of massive financial damage awards, perhaps similar to the payment required in O.T. terms of indenture. And the police who lied should serve the sentence that their false accusations incurred. That's in the Bible, too.

Consider the result: considerably greater care.

Rachel Coleman

labrialumn, that is the absolute best suggestion I've ever heard about how society ought to "repay" those who have been wrongfully incarcerated. The people who are freed would not regain what they lost, it's true, but such a penalty for the accusers would deter them from doing so again ... AND it would be really, really nice to see something like that occur without the need for lawsuits.

And the teacher in me says, "thanks!" because I'm going to show this note to my son who just finished an essay on "should we apply Mosaic law to current situations?"


Now that's a sticky article to send up as a first.

Welcome aboard Pat.

BTW, the link at the top has an extra "http//" in it that needs to be removed for it to work.

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