Anyone who’s been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania should know that there are increasing questions about the evidence prosecutors use to convict people. Forensic science as a discipline has come under question, and there are many reasons for this. The biggest is that many convictions based on forensic science have been overturned.
Is it all just junk science?
Forensic science has been exposed as problematic by organizations like The Innocence Project. Anyone mounting a criminal defense strategy should know about issues with forensics. Over the past few years, serious questions have been raised about many sub-disciplines in forensic science. One example is the way fires are investigated. This has changed a great deal due to an understanding that the old way had little relationship to reality. In particular, the pattern analysis was very flawed. Many people were sent to prison based on this bad science.
Why was this able to happen? For one thing, there are few nationwide standards in forensic science. It develops locally and is primarily influenced by the desire of prosecutors to secure convictions. There are few journals for this kind of science compared to other disciplines. That means less peer review of studies is going on. Being able to duplicate an experiment or study is a hallmark of science. It’s also a way of preventing the adoption of inaccurate methods.
Another consideration is that the main application for this science is in the criminal justice system. Most forensic scientists work for a jurisdiction, not independently. This means that they may be unduly influenced by the desire to obtain convictions. This desire can taint a forensic scientist’s findings.
Finally, there are unexpected demographic anomalies when it comes to the outcomes of forensic science in investigations. People of color, especially young men, are more likely to be convicted than their white counterparts. This raises the additional specter of bias in these investigations. These kinds of issues are a big part of why it’s very important to thoroughly interrogate forensic investigators and their findings during a criminal trial.