Study Questions Reliability of Forensic Evidence, Calls for Crime Lab Overhaul
Scientific evidence that is used to support many courtroom claims in criminal cases -- evidence that can lead to a criminal defendant's conviction or acquittal -- suffers from a lack of reliability and consistency, and the nation's crime labs need a scientific overhaul, according to a new study.
The National Academy of Sciences released its congressionally-mandated report Strengthening Forensic Science in the U.S. - A Path Forward, on Wednesday. According to an NAS News Release, the study finds that, although forensic science is often used to "match" a piece of evidence to a person or weapon, "with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, . . . 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." The report stresses the need for "strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on evidence" to correct the "badly-fragmented" forensic science systems in the nation's crime labs.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "the report could have a broad impact on crime labs and the courts, ushering in changes at least as significant as those generated by the advent of DNA evidence two decades ago," but meanwhile "the findings are expected to unleash a flood of new legal challenges by defense attorneys."
- National Academy of Sciences News Release on the Study
- Read the Full Report: Strengthening Forensic Science in the U.S. - A Path Forward (NAP.edu)
- L.A. Times: Report Questions Science, Reliability of Crime Lab Evidence
- Reuters: U.S. Forensic Crime Labs Need Major Reform - Experts
- L.A. Times Op-Ed: Clueless 'Science'
- Crime Lab Closures Lead to Backlogs While Report Set to Criticize Widely-Used Forensic Techniques (FindLaw's Common Law Blog 2/22/09)
- Evidence and Witnesses in Criminal Cases (FindLaw)
- Criminal Law Center (FindLaw)