Criminal forensics has revolutionized enforcing the law, both in finding criminals and saving the innocent. But in light of some of the more bizarre techniques, scientists have been asking questions about the accuracy of some forensic techniques, and increasingly, some look like they may have no scientific evidence behind them at all.
The White House’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology chose to follow up on a 2009 report from the Department of Justice that found worrying inconsistencies in some forensic techniques. In particular, there’s concern that “feature comparison” forensics, such as bite mark tests and shoe print analysis, have two problems. The first is that there’s no rigorous scientific standards for many forensic tests, meaning the standard of evidence can vary widely from state to state or even from judge to judge. The second is that some forensic techniques might literally have no basis in science at all.
This might sound ridiculous, but unfortunately people have been sent to jail, even death row, on the basis of bad science for decades, and far more recently than you might think. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, where a man many believe was innocent was ultimately executed on a case built on poor arson investigation techniques, is one of the more recent and outrageous examples, but there are hosts of others. This is a graver problem than you might think, as juries trust forensic evidence to the point where it’s believed some won’t convict without it. When scientific standards are imposed, we might find even more false convictions, a troubling thought for an already heavily questioned justice system.
(via The Verge)