This is a short story but its carries an important metaphor about the “forensic science “reform” process rocketing through the media and courtrooms in the US and the UK.
A pertinent question I have is “how does the our legal system recognize that science within its confines is constantly changing and how does the Criminal Justice system adapt to issues of junk and questionable testimony from generally law enforcement prone experts?”
Its a mouthful, but “change within the court system” does not seem similar to dynamic change in other aspects of our social melieu as we experiences changes of consumer products, air bags, public health, health care, pharmaceuticals, pollution and ecosystem change. Answers or solutions to all these are commonly threaded with established legal oversight, or threats of regulatory control, or actual consumer law litigation by state and federal police agencies. However, legal institutions and agencies are not proactive, but reactive in addressing things that have already happened. To be exact, the government is usually NOT a first responder to public safety and Constitutional issues within criminal justice.
At this point, our legal systems are largely unprepared to handle the upcoming onslaught of appellate litigation regarding flawed and unreliable expert testimony. Science is improving but some prosecutors, Attorneys General and state courts are still driving a Model T.
Back to forensics.
Who has been proactive within forensic science and asking for more bases of science within the “police sciences?” A small group from within these disciplines does exist. At the forefront were a few prominent whistleblowers who started getting notice 30 years ago regarding major FBI Crime lab goofs. There were also other forensic examiners who learned some science and began to understand how prominent DNA would become. A few others since, although they may still be isolated from any consensus within their subject matter groups, have become vocal and volunteer to innocence projects (IP Network) across the US.
Some other change has occurred. Since the 2009 NAS Report on forensics, the professional meetings I have attended now contain talk about wrongful convictions as a fact, rather than just some crank accusations from money-grubbing lawyers (no exaggeration ). But, in the AAFS odontology (Dentistry) section, I apparently am the only experienced forensic dental type who talks about actual cases as showing systemic problems, but at least that’s a start.
A good example of people taking a hard look at their forensic methods are some members of the American Board of Forensic Odontology who are active in IP criminal litigation objecting to past use of bitemark pattern “identification” in prosecutions for the last 50 years. This tiny bunch (out of hundreds of self-proscribed forensic dentists in the US) take on cases which have become headline news in the exoneration world. It takes some courage to do this as many to all of these post-conviction bitemark cases (its up to 25 total) were prosecuted and helped by the “big guns” in bitemarks who were at their height of public crime fighting glory. I also have to give credit to those dentists (about 3 or 4) who have recanted their years-old testimony. That takes alot of guts. Some of them have said their “science” has improved. I don’t think that is accurate (there wasn’t any science to begin with), but it sure sounds good to most people and the courts.
So, I am giving credit where its due, as the ABFO is becoming incrementally more involved with wrongful convictions via these members who are stepping up. This is despite the group’s past leadership’s traits of dirty dealing towards those who have objected to their intransigent ways.