Lindy Chamberlain (1980)
Australia’s Forensic Nightmare
According to the poet Robert Frost, “A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”1 Nowadays Frost’s wry observation could easily be broadened to include expert witnesses as well; for when it comes to the arcane business of deciding criminal trials, it’s not just the quality of forensic evidence that counts, but the manner of its presentation. Expert witnesses come in all shapes and forms; some are fluid and extremely plausible in their delivery, others are less so. While this may have no bearing on the content of their testimony, how it is received by an impressionable jury is quite another matter.
It’s no coincidence that the majority of the more polished expert witnesses testify for the prosecution. Most are in its employ, enjoying all the perks of a regular caseload, access to virtually unlimited resources, the latest technology, and those regular, often headline-grabbing courtroom appearances that do so much for the ego and one’s professional standing. No struggling along in some small, independent lab for these forensic superstars; they’re headliners in the major leagues.
The downside is an expectation of infallibility. Make a mistake, get found out, and your credibility is shattered, perhaps forever, as happened in the case that forensic science would like to forget.
If bungled crime scenes are the biggest bugbear of criminal detection, then bungled science is a mighty close runner-up. Combine the two and