More thoughts from the AAFS convention

 It's easy to become optimistic after attending a convention like this. All the forensic scientists understand the problems with using science, and want to fix them. I also heard several judges who clearly get it; one even talked about the disparate treatment given prosecution and defense experts, and the overall lack of scrutiny given by judges to scientific evidence.

One of the stories I heard pointed out the problem we still have - incompetence on the part of both defense lawyers and prosecutors. The story involved an identification hearing before a federal magistrate - another state was trying to gain custody of the defendant, and he was claiming he was not the person named in the warrant. The only testimony came from a fingerprint analyst, who was limited to poor quality photographs on the documents. What was remarkable was that the defendant didn't challenge the evidence, and the prosecutor didn't seek additional verification. Instead, it was the magistrate who took it upon himself to appoint a court expert - something I have never seen.

The failure of the defense lawyer to challenge the fingerprint identification is difficult to understand. When the client claims it isn't  him, and the evidence is suspect, that should be the first thing you do. Add on the problems that have been identified with fingerprints in general, and it's a no brainer.

The prosecutor doesn't get a pass either. He has a duty to ensure he is presenting accurate evidence, and should not have simply accepted the file as it was given to him. Were it not for the judge, the case would sailed right through the system.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is an isolated. Even though the NAS report has been out for several years, most lawyers still don't know about it. And even if they've heard about, they don't know what to do with it. It's no longer good enough to know the law - you now need to keep up with the science, and know where the problems are.

The lawyers, judges and prosecutors who go to these conventions get it. Unfortunately, that's a very small number. We need to do better at the spreading this knowledge to others. 

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