Forensics: regulating junk forensic expertise continues in Texas; other states lagging; from ‘Grits for Breakfast’

Top 10 junk forensic sciences challenged in Texas

In the wake of the Forensic Science Commission declaring blood-spatter evidence in a 30-year old murder case “not accurate or scientifically supported,” Texas has lately again been getting deserved credit as a national leader on forensic reform. Our forensic commission is the best in the country, according to Innocence Project cofounder Peter Neufeld, and our first-of-its-kind junk science writ has made Texas one of only two states (California followed suit) with the means in place to challenge junk science in old convictions through habeas corpus writs.
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.

  1. Dog-scent lineups
  2. Outdated arson standards
  3. Hair comparisons
  4. Bite marks
  5. Blood spatter
  6. DNA mixtures
  7. Field tests for narcotics
  8. Future dangerousness testimony
  9. Shaken baby syndrome
  10. Forensichypnosis
  11. Honorable mentionEstimating 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.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in ABFO, Bitemarks, criminal justice reform, Forensic Science Bias, forensic science reform. Bookmark the permalink.

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