A federal magistrate judge speaks words denouncing forensic science superstitions, as some others in the judiciary attack similar soothsayers, and a Virgina Law Review article expounds on a criminal justice system that can’t keep up with science and lacks tools to counteract flacks and fakes. Or correct its mistakes in a timely manner due to outmoded Rules of Evidence and Judicial Review protocols.
“Today,” the court wrote, “with the benefit of extraordinary progress in human knowledge regarding fire science over the past two decades it is now uncontested that this fire science evidence – which was a critical component in the quantum of proof that led to . . . [the] conviction – is invalid, and that much of what was presented to . . . [the] jury as science is now conceded to be little more than superstition.”
“When a federal magistrate judge recommended that the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania exonerate Han Tak Lee for the murder by arson of his young daughter, he began his report this way: “’Slow and painful has been man’s progress from magic to law.’” Lee’s daughter, the court explained, had perished “in a tragic cabin fire at a religious retreat,” and the State’s evidence “was based, to a substantial degree, upon what was at the time undisputed scientific evidence concerning the source and origin of this fire, fire origin evidence which tended to show that the fire which consumed this cabin and took the life of . . . [the victim] was deliberately set by the defendant in a calculated fashion.” Lee had been wrongly imprisoned for twenty-five years, the State’s conviction rested on the theory, elicited through expert testimony, that Lee “was especially cruel and calculating, dousing . . . [the] small cabin in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains with more than 60 gallons of gasoline and heating fuel and setting at least eight fires, ending at the front door to block any chance of escape.”
4 Va. J. Crim. L. __ (forthcoming 2016) by Chris Fabricant and Tucker Carrington III (long read).