The blind leading the blind - Is that the current state of Forensic Science

Back in July the FBI announced a review of cases handled by the units hair and fiber unit. They estimated the review would encompass approximately 21,000. While that's a start, the Washington Post has pointed out  ot may only be the tip of the iceberg.

The article points out a problem that isn't often talked about - not only did the forensic and hair unit examine cases, they also trained other examiners. According to the post story, the examiners in that unit also trained some 600 - 1,000 state and local examiners - who are presumably also employing the same flawed techniques they were taught.

Radley Balko characterizes this as a systemic issue, which cannot be addressed on a case by case basis. While I agree with that statement, we also must come up with a better way to identify those individuals who have been convicted by bad forensics, and then provide an effective remedy. So far, no one is making any attempt to do that. Ideally it would by the FBI - but that's probably too much to ask given their reluctance to acknowledge any problems. That leaves the problem with State and local agencies, and individual groups, such as innocence projects.

While the problem here is with hair and fiber analysis, the problem is much bigger. You only need to look at arson cases to see how flawed forensics can be institutionalized, and passed down from one group to another. For years the same unscientific techniques were taught and passed on - and probably are still being taught and passed on.

I don't  have an answer, but I think we  have to start with providing a realistic process for obtaining relief to those who have been convicted on fault evidence. Perhaps that means re-examining every case where forensics played a significant part in the conviction. While that task would be enormous, is it really too much to ask of a system that prides itself on fairness.

 
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