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Crime Science

The Fight To Reform Forensic Science 93 93

carmendrahl writes "Despite a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences that found the science in crime labs wanting, very little reform of forensic science has taken place. At a session about the Innocence Project, a group that exonerates prisoners with DNA evidence, speakers called on chemists to join the fight for reform. But forensic chemists don't all agree on what needs reforming."
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The Fight To Reform Forensic Science

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  • First Step: ban tv (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday September 10, 2012 @06:17PM (#41293875) Homepage Journal
    People watch shows like Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime and think forensic results are infallible and always available in less than 40 minutes.
  • Forensic liars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday September 10, 2012 @06:28PM (#41293967)

    The problem with forensic science is that it's less a science and more an art. Take identifying the flash point of a fire for example -- it's not as easy as people say or suspect. For years, "scientists" would point to certain fracture patterns or scorching marks and say that was the source, but there was never any studies done on it. It was mostly speculation, compounded by experience. Without any feedback on whether they were actually right or wrong, they developed a false sense of confidence. And in court, confidence + authority = conviction.

    The problem is that the legal system doesn't use scientific standards, it uses legal standards. And the law is based on experience -- it is forever looking backwards. A precident set 200 years ago is just as applicable in a court today as it was in the intervening years. Science, on the other hand, only considers the most current understanding relevant. And that's where the problems start. The law says that once a kind of forensic examination carries legal weight, then even if it is later conclusively proven scientifically to be false, it does not overturn past convictions, nor does it prevent its use in the present.

    Our justice system is not about fairness or justice -- it is about maintaining public perception of order, which is a separate and distinct concept. It can be quite orderly and efficient to never allow a new trial for the convicted... it is not necessarily fair.

  • Re:Forensic liars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jomegat (706411) on Monday September 10, 2012 @06:37PM (#41294037)
    An ex-attorney friend of mine once observed, "We do not have a justice system. We have a legal system." It's an important thing to remember.
  • by Kagato (116051) on Monday September 10, 2012 @07:01PM (#41294209)

    People should keep in mind that the "Crime Lab" isn't an independent laboratory. A lot of people think that the crime lab is there to find the scientific truth (just like in CSI), when in fact they are there to serve the needs of the police and/or the prosecution. A lot of the time that means cherry picking what tests they are going to run to suit the needs presupposed by the authorities.

    The sloppy science is just an extension of the prevailing attitude. Labs are often run in a highly politicized environment where the emphasis is getting convictions. Most of the time the budget is tied to that as well. In fact most police run labs aren't even accredited.

    Until the crime lab is an independent fixture of the state that both the prosecution and defense can use it's going to be a problem.

  • by Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) on Monday September 10, 2012 @07:08PM (#41294255)

    People watch shows like Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime and think forensic results are infallible and always available in less than 40 minutes.

    I was on a jury a few years back, and the first thing out of the prosecutors mouth was "This isn't csi. We don't have DNA evidence. We aren't going to bring out 10 dramatic witnesses", etc. Made me wonder why we're contemplating putting someone in jail for the rest of their lives if we aren't interested in spending the money on the evidence needed to really confirm a jury finding.

    I know some things that happen on tv aren't even plausible in real life at any price. But some of the stuff that gets passed in front of a jury is pretty weak.

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