Archive for September, 2009
Authors: John M. Collins and Jay Jarvis
The purpose of this study was to examine the accuracy of claims that faulty forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful convictions. This sentiment has been reported at length by major news outlets across the United States. It has also been a matter of great concern to a group of activists in what is known as the innocence network and other individuals having varying degrees of interest in the formulation of public policies related to forensic science. (continue reading…)
The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that expert testimony falls under the 6th Amendment right of the defendant to face adverse witnesses. States that have used affidavits for this purpose must now scramble to change their practices to accommodate the new ruling. But beyond this, there are a number of issues yet to be dealt with: What about old cases where evidence is no longer available for retesting? What about others who had a hand in the examination process? It would be instructive to learn how other regions are dealing with this issue, if at all. Readers are invited to discuss these issues and to offer examples.
What information is needed to form a conclusion about an identification? Do conclusions require statistical data, as in DNA cases, to offer an opinion? Is it possible to state that two items of evidence come from a sole source? What may an expert opine when no statistical data is readily available and only experience suggests a conclusion? The National Academy report raises some profound questions and some intriguing research possibilities. But in the interim, while we wait for academics to study the multitude of pattern evidence forensic scientists encounter in their day to day work, who may report cases and testify in court? Readers are invited to speak to these issues.
The so-called Daubert Trilogy (Daubert, Joiner, and Kumho) is made up of the following cases:
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 43 F.3d 1311 (9th Cir. 1995)
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. v. JOINER (96-188) 78 F.3d 524
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999)
They, along with rule 702, Federal Rules of Evidence, significantly changed the landscape of expert testimony, especially in criminal cases, by changing the focus from the generally accepted standard to the requirement to show reliability. Even in states that still follow the Frye standard, Daubert issues are being used to challenge the weight of the evidence proffered. Clearly, the courts will continue to debate these issues as they try to define expert evidence. Readers are invited to weigh in on these issues.
Executive Summary of the National Academies of Science Reports, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
Scores of talented and dedicated people serve the forensic science community, performing vitally important work. However, they are often constrained by lack of adequate resources, sound policies, and national support. It is clear that change and advancements, both systematic and scientific, are needed in a number of forensic science disciplines to ensure the reliability of work, establish enforceable standards, and promote best practices with consistent application. Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward provides a detailed plan for addressing these needs and suggests the creation of a new government entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science, to establish and enforce standards within the forensic science community. (continue reading…)