Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest article

When Forensic Science Overreaches

Without a doubt, forensic science has made and continues to make huge contributions to our society. Cases that could never have otherwise been cracked are solved by creative, scientific means. But what happens when forensic science overreaches; when experts make claims that can’t be really be upheld using the strict scientific method? Do innocent people sometimes go to jail simply because your average American citizen has seen too many episodes of CSI and now believes that any statement made by a forensic expert is infallible? The answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.

Forensics as a science.

Like any other scientific field, forensic science is founded on sound scientific principals. Methods of investigation are tested both in the laboratory and the field to determine their accuracy. Statements made in court should be balanced against the limitations of the technology itself and the methods employed to gather the evidence. Unfortunately, juries seem to occasionally have a problem differentiating between deductions made by the investigator and provable facts.

When deduction is confused with fact.

In an article entitled What’s Wrong With Forensic Science that appeared in Newsweek, an example is given of a man who was convicted of a crime he never committed due to the testimony of a forensic scientist who convinced the jury she had matched his designer jeans to evidence at the crime scene. This was in 1989 before the widespread use of DNA evidence. He was acquitted when law enforcement found that his DNA did not match the samples taken at the crime scene. Unfortunately, he wasn’t freed until 2008. The jury had failed to question the deductive process employed by the forensic investigator.

What jurors need to know.

It is paramount for potential jurists to realize that forensic scientists, as humans, can
make mistakes. They can interpret information in the wrong way. They can see connections that aren’t there. A footprint linked to shoes with a certain speck of mud on them should not a guilty verdict make.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching accredited online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.