Are CSI-Style Forensics Fake Science?

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's long been understood that certain sciences are in fact pseudo-sciences and are often referred to as junk science. Commonly, junk science takes the form of sham products designed to prey on people's insecurities. That flashing light you've velcroed to your body is not going to reduce your waist, despite what that scientist on that 2 a.m. infomercial tells you.

However, last week the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama's advisors on technology and science are about to issue findings calling into question scientific practices accepted by the court system relating to CSI-style forensic evidence.

While the president's advisors' findings are not saying that all forensics are a sham, they are saying that many of the types of accepted forensic evidence do not actually meet the criterion for what should be accepted as evidence in a court of law.

Scientific Certainty Requires Objective Repeatability

The primary issue that is raised by the president's advisors is the lack of validation by multiple sources. The WSJ reports that the advisors have called into question forensic evidence relating to bite-marks, hair, footwear, and ballistics relating to firearms and projectiles. One of the hallmarks of scientific principles is that anyone can get the same results by repeating an experiment. When an experiment is not repeatable by other scientists, it calls the original findings into question.

The draft of the report explains that courts have been lax in assessing scientific validity of forensic evidence, and has accepted un-validated and unrepeated methodologies. For forensic evidence to be accepted by a court, the science must be valid. For science to be valid, it must have been independently tested and verified, according to the ordinary practices of scientific methodology. The report cites the reliability of DNA evidence stands in contrast to the unreliability of other forensics.

Can Your Conviction Be Overturned?

If you were convicted of a crime, and during trial, the prosecution relied upon bite-marks, hair (for a non-DNA related reason), footprints, or ballistics, then your conviction might be worth talking to a lawyer about appealing.

What is important to note is that the report itself does not invalidate all scientific evidence, but rather just calls particular types of evidence into question. If the evidence in question would not have been required to achieve the conviction, then this will likely make no difference for your case. However, if your conviction primarily rests upon a bite-mark found on the victim's body, then you may have reasonable grounds to appeal.

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