The most commonly used forensics that were questioned by the National Academy of Sciences 2009 report, “Strengthening Forensic Science: A Path Forward
” – like fingerprints or ballistics matching – have yet to face concerted challenges. But quite a few second-tier forensic methods have begun to wilt under scrutiny.
Here’s Grit’s list of the top 10 forensics challenged in Texas to date.
- Dog-scent lineups
- Outdated arson standards
- Hair comparisons
- Bite marks
- Blood spatter
- DNA mixtures
- Field tests for narcotics
- Future dangerousness testimony
- Shaken baby syndrome
- Honorable mention: Estimating suspects’ height based on forensic video analysis.
Of these, only dog-scent lineups and flawed arson testimony have been eliminated, with hair comparisons mostly displaced by mitochondrial DNA testing in 21st century cases. A prosecutor in Collin County recently stipulated that bite-mark testimony is junk, so the Court of Criminal Appeals will soon get a chance to declare it non-viable. The rest are under dispute but still in use. Moreover, Texas has yet to figure out how to respond when forensic errors impact large numbers of already-decided cases
That’s why I’ve said before, Texas may be ahead of other states on forensic reform, but don’t gloat. Most other states are behind because they never left the starting gate, and despite some notable progress, most of our needed forensic reforms remain in front of us.