#Forensic Testimony: Science, Law and Expert Evidence: A Book Review

The latest review of this book is by Professor Jane Taylor, University of Newcastle, Ourimbah NSW 2011, New South Wales, Australia. The book is published by Elsevier/Academic Press and is available on Amazon.com.

Forensic Testimony by C. Michael Bowers.

This is a dense and erudite text looking at principles and practice of expert testimony applicable across a number of forensic disciplines.  While referring predominantly to what are termed the ‘identification sciences’ (including fingerprints, firearms, toolmarks and bitemarks) and directly referencing the US legal system, much of the information is relevant to any jurisdiction and for that reason alone should be requisite reading for all new forensic practitioners regardless of their discipline.

Experienced practitioners will also benefit from this book.  While many may be challenged and affronted by some of the content, they owe it to their professionalism to reflect and consider the information imparted.

Although the book uses direct examples of poor science and expert testimony to reinforce its message, much useful information is imparted about how to improve your activities as a forensic practitioner and expert witness; from how to structure a case file, write a report and survive cross examination.  There is extensive discussion about context and observer bias, the use of statistics and a chapter devoted to uniqueness and individualisation.  Each chapter is concluded with an excerpt from the “The Innocence Blog” which serves as a very tangible way to reinforce the importance of the messages in the text.

The introduction, which is a reprint of a lecture by Harry T. Edwards, sets the scene for the book well and dispels a few myths around NAS report.  In Chapter 1 Mike Bowers then introduces expert testimony via an interesting brief history.  Over the next 3 chapters Mark Page discusses definitions of forensic science; models of scientific reasoning; use of statistics and bias. Chapter 3 which looks at admissibility of evidence based around the US legal system, but the messages are transferrable to all jurisdictions.

Mike Bowers then introduces concepts of case management in Chapter 5, how to be a good witness in Chapter 6 and court room testimony in Chapter 7.  The use of example questions and answers in this chapter is a good instructive tool.  Mark Page discusses uniqueness in Chapter 9.

The final 3 chapters complete the book nicely, with Brent Turvey looking at how things may go wrong and the consequences, Mike Bowers discussing ethical practice and in the final chapter Wendy Koen, an attorney with the California Innocence Project, presents some case histories to reinforce how easily things that go wrong.

This book will have supporters and critics.  It will generate opinions and discussion and that is a healthy thing and the authors are to be congratulated on this alone.  Those who put in the effort to read this text with an open mind can only benefit.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in Bad Forensic Science, Bitemarks, criminal justice, expert testimony, Forensic Science, wrongful convictions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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