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Forensic Evidence Is Not Trustworthy but Prosecutors Love It: The News This Week

This week heralds the end of the National Commission on Forensic Science, a group of experts entrusted with evaluating forensic science methods that are being brought into courtrooms by prosecutors all over the country.  It’s not good news.  Their job is important because so much of the current stuff labelled “scientific evidence” in criminal investigations is anything but scientific.

We’ve discussed this before.  Read our earlier discussions in:

Thing is, this stuff gets introduced into evidence and put before a jury.  Sometimes, it is with winning results.  Then, while the accused sits behind bars, appellate arguments have to be made against its reliability.

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Two-Fold Problem in Forensic Science as Criminal Trial Evidence Today

It’s a two-fold problem.  First, there’s the junk science.  Things that don’t pass scientific muster and should not be considered reliable for a jury to consider in a criminal trial.

Second, there are the errors and omissions that happen during forensic efforts that result in flawed and unreliable test results.   Imprecision in laboratory methodology can result in unreliable “evidence” just as much as junk science can provide.

Attorney General Announces NCFS Contract Not Renewed

Officially, the top prosecutor for the federal government, the United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly announced that the NCFS contract will not be renewed.

Which means things like bite mark evidence, fingerprints, and hair analysis are going to continue to be viewed very, very suspiciously by every criminal defense lawyer when a prosecutor tries to include it in their case because these things just are not credible, verifiable scientific proof. Despite what you see on crime and courtroom television shows.

Thing this is exaggeration? Nope.  Go read the 2009 report on the state of forensic science in this country from the National Academy of Sciences, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” It’s downright scary.

Texas Supreme Court Rules Texas Death Penalty Standard is Unscientific

Meanwhile, here in the Lone Star State, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Moore v. Texas.  It’s all about science in the criminal courtroom.

The High Court ruled that the test used here in Texas for deciding if someone is “intellectually disabled” and therefore ineligible for the death penalty and being executed for their crimes is based upon unscientific “medical guidance.”

It’s bad science in the worst scenario because in these cases, the prosecution is presenting this stuff in its arguments that the accused should die for his crimes.

Accordingly, SCOTUS has held the Texas evidence standards in this area are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

SCOTUS described some of the “indicators of intellectual disability” used in Texas and approved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as “… an invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged [medical ] source.”

So what happens now?  The State of Texas must find a way to decide if someone is intellectually disabled under new methods, relying on “current medical standards” and not the “wholly nonclinical” factors approved by the CCA.

Massachusetts Crime Lab Fiasco: 21,587 Convictions Thrown Out

There’s more.  Up in Massachusetts, a chemist named Annie Dookham pled guilty back in 2013 to tampering with evidence that was being used in drug prosecutions.

She did things like sending out confirmation that things tested positive for drugs without bothering to test the stuff.  (Read more about her in our earlier post.)

Now, the State of Massachusetts has announced what will happen to all those cases that Dookhan was involved in as part of the Massachusetts crime lab.

They are tossing 21,587 criminal convictions out because of this single crime lab chemist.

Houston Crime Scene Investigator Mistakes Mean Texas Convictions May Be Thrown Out, Too

Down in Harris County, there a big problem with forensic evidence brewing that means lots of criminal convictions may be tossed out down there, too.  Seems a crime scene investigator (yes, a “CSI”) may have made lots of mistakes on the job.

Right now, reports are that something like 26 homicides are in question now.

This isn’t the first time there have been forensic evidence issues down in Harris County, either. Last summer, almost 300 convictions were held to be wrongful because of bad forensic evidence.  In October, over 4000 criminal cases were jeopardized when a sprinkler went off in the Houston Police

And then, of course, there was Jonathan Salvador and his tainting of forensic evidence.  Read our post on that travesty, “Report on Crime Lab Evidence Released: DPS Lab Tech Jonathan Salvador May Have Sent 1000s to Texas Prisons in Wrongful Convictions & and the CCA is Reversing The Convictions.”

Are Prosecutors Learning Anything Here?

So, with all these messes involving forensic evidence and the growing skepticism of using “scientific” evidence in criminal prosecutions, are prosecutors being more careful with how they prove up their cases?  You decide.

It was in the news just this week that a prosecutor in Bowie County is going to use a photograph of a fingerprint to try and convict a man of possessing child pornography.

That’s right.  Not a fingerprint – as questionable as they often are.  He’s going to use a photograph of a fingerprint.

It’s never been done before in Texas.  But it’s probably been done on TV. 

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For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article, “THE CRUEL REALITY OF CRIMINAL EVIDENCE: IT’S JUST NOT THAT RELIABLE.”

 


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