Monday, March 29, 2010

Judge urges skepticism on forensic evidence

From the Boston Globe:

"“CSI’’ may make for gripping television, but US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner says forensic evidence isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

In a move that some legal scholars said may be the first by a federal judge, Gertner has ordered defense lawyers and prosecutors not to assume that evidence routinely accepted in the courts for decades is reliable. Defense lawyers, she wrote, should vigorously challenge fingerprints, bullet identification, handwriting, and other trace evidence, and prosecutors should be prepared to show it is valid.

“In the past, the admissibility of this kind of evidence was effectively presumed, largely because of its pedigree — the fact that it had been admitted for decades,’’ Gertner wrote in a March 8 order. “As such, counsel rarely challenged it, and if it were challenged, it was rarely excluded or limited.’’

That needs to change, she said. A critique last year by the National Academy of Sciences, she noted, concluded that forensic evidence used to convict thousands of defendants for nearly a century is hardly the infallible proof of police procedurals on television. Too often, the study found, it is the product of sloppy practices that should be improved and standardized.

Spurred by the report and criminal cases she has presided over, Gertner wrote that the validity of such evidence “ought not to be presumed’’ and that defense attorneys should contest it at pretrial hearings, or explain why they do not. She will allow the evidence to go before a jury only if it meets sound scientific principles.

Defense lawyers and advocates for people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes welcomed Gertner’s order."

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.


1 comment:

Steve said...

Here is the decision in the case, which may be useful information when reading the article: