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Thread: When Forensic Evidence Goes Bad

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    When Forensic Evidence Goes Bad

    A whole cottage industry has been built around hair, blood, and bite-mark analyses---but what happens when it puts the wrong people in jail?

    By BRIAN SAADY • August 28, 2018

    Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a collaborative series with the R Street Institute exploring conservative approaches to criminal justice reform.

    “(It is better) that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” It was the 18th-century English jurist Sir William Blackstone who first coined this theoretical basis of criminal justice, and it’s a principle with which a majority of Americans agree.

    Unfortunately, far too many criminal convictions have been overturned due to false evidence, including what is often considered to be gospel—forensic evidence.

    Forensic science is a fundamental tool of the criminal justice system. However, a growing number of scandals have illustrated that not everyone in this field is qualified or immune to systemic bias. And as research continues to develop, some forms of forensic science have been proven to be, well, unreliable.

    Science as a law enforcement tool has become wildly popular over the last two decades—from its pervasiveness in higher education criminal justice programs to its persistent presence in media culture (see: NCIS and its spinoffs). But its credibility has nonetheless been an issue for many years. For example, former FBI agent Frederic Whitehurst, who began working in the bureau’s crime lab in 1994, immediately noticed that many of the staffers were not qualified to conduct scientific analysis. He subsequently became a whistleblower and exposed that many FBI staffers had falsely testified about the level of their expertise and reliability of their evidence.

    Whitehurst’s dogged quest for upholding the integrity of the system led to his ouster in 1998. His efforts resulted in some internal reforms, but many of the systemic problems appear unresolved more than 20 years later.

    Meanwhile, in 2015, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) released an alarming report that found a 90 percent error rate in 500 FBI cases that the team reviewed. Remarkably, 26 out of 28 FBI hair analysis “experts” provided erroneous statements. Worst of all, several people were executed as a result of this evidence. Of the 35 cases that ended in a death penalty sentencing, 33 included erroneous statements from FBI staff.

    An audit from two years ago of the crime lab in Austin, Texas, found that one tech with nearly 5,000 drug cases under his belt had “a lack of understanding of chemistry” and a 33 percent error rate. Regardless, he received a promotion due to limited staffing.
    "The Patriarch"

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    Not going to happen.
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    The man did not think clearly. It was almost as if he had brain cancer of something.

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    The worship of science has degenerated down not only to a worship of scientists but a worship of lab technicians, skepticism has been thrown out in favor of absolute faith.
    Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Robert Heinlein

    Give a man an inch and right away he thinks he's a ruler

    Groucho Marx

    I love mankind…it’s people I can’t stand.

    Linus, from the Peanuts comic

    You cannot have liberty without morality and morality without faith

    Alexis de Torqueville

    Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
    Those who learn from the past are condemned to watch everybody else repeat it

    A Zero Hedge comment

  4. #3
    One short lived tv show 'being human' had criminals use bio bombs to make crime scene forensics unusable. Mix in DNA from lots of people and spread it around a room. Since then I've been waiting for some criminal to collect hair and dna from various public restrooms / barber shops to cover their tracks. I have yet to hear of it but I'm sure it will happen. Although if it did happen I wonder if we'd even hear about it?
    “…let us teach them that all who draw breath are of equal worth, and that those who seek to press heel upon the throat of liberty, will fall to the cry of FREEDOM!!!” – Spartacus, War of the Damned

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