Saturday, September 26, 2009

Making forensic science scientific

LA Times Editorial - Making forensic science scientific
Establishing national forensic science standards is crucial when evidence determines life or death.

"... In 2006, Congress charged the National Academy of Sciences with studying the application of forensic science in the U.S. judicial system. Its findings, released last year, are grim. Almost every branch of forensics but DNA testing -- hair and fiber analysis, arson investigations, comparisons of bite marks -- lacks the extensive scientific research and established standards to be used in court conclusively.

Consider: Last year, the Innocence Project, a New York-based public policy and litigation organization, helped exonerate Kennedy Brewer, a Mississippi man who had been convicted in 1992 of raping and killing a 3-year-old girl. DNA testing was not available at the time, and the primary evidence against him was that bite marks on the child's body matched his teeth. Examination of the marks by national forensics experts determined that they were not even made by a human mouth: Her body had been dumped in a pond and insects had attacked it. Subsequent DNA testing also excluded Brewer as the rapist.

In February, the science academy issued a report calling for Congress to create a national institute of forensic science, and there is more than enough evidence that one is desperately needed. As an independent agency, not part of the Justice Department, it would be charged with conducting research, setting national standards for forensic disciplines and enforcing those standards. Right now, standards vary wildly. An expert in San Diego, for example, might testify that a fiber is similar to one found at a crime scene, while an expert in San Bernardino might testify that a match is impossible to determine.

Advances in forensics have revolutionized the judicial system, aiding both prosecutors and defense attorneys, exonerating the innocent and confirming the guilty in ways that were impossible just a generation ago. The patchwork state of forensic science should not become an excuse to shy away from its use; rather, the nation should invest in the rigorous research required to standardize techniques and application. ..."

Read the rest of the editorial by
clicking here.

Enjoy.

No comments: