Forensic science has long been a standard tool in criminal investigations. However, much of the forensic evidence presented in court lacks actual science that demonstrates its reliability, a legal expert said.
A recent report released by The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) dealt a significant blow to the field, concluding that some of the most widely-used areas of forensic science lack scientific validity and should not be used as evidence in criminal trials.
The report reviewed forensic methods that require comparing known and questioned items, such as bite marks, fingerprints, firearm marks, shoe treads, and DNA samples.
"Much of the comparison is performed not by machine or microscope, but by the human eye," said Jessica Gabel Cino, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law. "The report directly deals with whether these practices have any scientific research to back up claims that have been made in courts for decades. The report also questions whether these forensic techniques should be used in the courtroom at all."
The report has been generating outcry from prosecutors and forensic scientists since its "predecisional" release on August 26.
"We want forensic evidence to give convictions certainty, but the scope of bad science used in criminal cases could be wide," Cino said.
Cino is available to discuss the implications of what this means for the criminal justice system. "Simply put, this a big deal," she said.
Cino teaches and presents on forensic evidence, criminal law and trial strategy. She also has written articles on forensic evidence, including the validity of forensic evidence genetic testing, forensic DNA identification and why forensic lab reviews matter.
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