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Forensic evidence: way more fallible than many people believe

When they themselves are evaluated on their competency in carrying out tests and analyzing information that often sends third parties to prison for years or even life, they fail the exam on an astonishingly high number of occasions.

"They" pertains to that singular and limited group of so-called "forensic experts" that conduct exams and offer testimony at criminal trials on evidence linked to DNA, firearms, bite marks and additional matters.

All our readers across North Carolina know the aura associated with "scientific" evidence, of course, being inundated with CSI shows that spotlight brilliant workers who carry out sophisticated and unerringly accurate analysis on, well, just about anything that leads to a conviction.

There is a problem with such shows that spotlights both their blatantly fictional quality and an inherent injustice that results from immediately according forensic practitioners too much respect.

As noted in a Washington Post article referencing a "significant" report that issued recently, that problem is this: many forensic methods relied upon by investigators "have not yet been proved to be reliable forms of legal proof."

Put bluntly: They often put innocent people behind bars.

The report was authored by eminent scientists and advisers who offer input to the government, and it is damning indeed. The writers of the Post piece -- a federal judge and dean of a law school, respectively -- call it "a much-needed wake-up call to all who care about the integrity of the criminal-justice system."

That certainly includes seasoned criminal defense attorneys, who know absolutely from hard-earned experience just how fallible and erring evidence can be that is touted by proponents lauding its alleged scientific value.

Here is the bottom line regarding so-called "proofs" that are offered up by state and federal authorities as evidence of a criminal suspect's guilt: Every single piece of evidence needs to be closely scrutinized and evaluated, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

Knowledgeable and aggressive legal counsel will ensure that it is, being flatly resolute about ensuring accuracy owing to the sad reality that evidence offered up as air tight often turns up to be full of holes.

Justice must be the ultimate goal and end point in the criminal law realm. As such, every tool used by investigators and enforcers must be deemed to be fully open to closest scrutiny to ensure its accuracy and proper use in a given case.


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