C.S.OyForensic science is badly in need of reform. Here are some suggestions


C.S.OyForensic science is badly in need of reform. Here are some suggestions.

Last week, the state of Mississippi terminated its 20-year relationship with medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne. Hayne has come under fire from fellow medical examiners, criminal justice groups like the Innocence Project, and one of the authors of this article for his impossible workload, sloppy procedures, and questionable court testimony. In the early 1990s, Hayne and his frequent collaborator, now-disgraced forensic odontologist Dr. Michael West, helped secure murder convictions for Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both later proven innocent through DNA testing. The two were released from prison earlier this year.

Mississippi is hardly alone when it comes to bad forensic science. It now appears that Washington, D.C., may have to retry Angela O’Brien for the 2000 killing of her 2-year-old goddaughter, Brianna Blackmond, after revelations that the prosecution’s star forensic witness, a physicist named Saami Shaibani, lied about his credentials in a Wisconsin murder case. These are only the most recent and dramatic examples of forensics fraud to make the headlines. Over the years, there have been plenty of other hucksters and charlatans happy to take advantage of the ignorance of juries, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys in very complicated and difficult-to-understand disciplines.

The biggest problem is that the supposedly objective scientific experts are working for the prosecution.

Those guys are hired guns. They go with whoever will pay them.

Prosecutors tend to have bigger budgets than public defenders. They aren’t less principled, just better funded.

In most jurisdictions, the indigent defendants aren’t allowed anything for investigation or forensic testing at all.

One thing that the OJ trial pointed up is that the prosecution was totally unaccustomed to having its evidence challenged and how incompetent a lot of its experts were.

Regrettably so. I think we’re turning a corner on that one, now. I certainly hope so.

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