Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up with Science?

Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up with Science?

Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up with Science?

Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up with Science?

Synopsis

Shelton describes the startling questions that have arisen about the reliability of many forms of scientific evidence which were traditionally regarded as reliable and have been routinely admitted to prove guilt. The exonerations resulting from the development of DNA have exposed the lack of truswortiness of much of the "scientific" evidence that was used to convict people who turned out to be innocent. The Congressionally commissioned report of the National Academy of Sciences documented the lack of scientific basis in many of these areas. Nevertheless, Shelton discloses that many courts continue to routinely admit such evidence in criminal cases, in spite of the obligation of judges to be the "gatekeepers" of forensic science evidence. He explores reasons for that phenomenon and describes whether and how it might change in the future.

Excerpt

In criminal cases, jurors are the finders of fact. To determine those facts they are presented with evidence from witness testimony about what the witness observed or heard. It is for the jury to decide whether that testimony proves, either directly or circumstantially, beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime with which he is charged. Additionally, the jury is allowed to hear conclusion or opinion testimony from persons who are regarded as experts. They are not allowed to give opinion testimony as to the ultimate issue of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. They may give opinion testimony when those opinions would assist the jury in reaching that ultimate issue. The testimony is limited to areas that are beyond the normal or common experience of jurors and where an expert’s special knowledge will help the jury understand the import of the factual evidence it hears.

Testimony from scientific experts is the classic form of such expert testimony. Forensic science evidence is the observation and opinion of a trained person and is designed to aid the jury in understanding the meaning or conclusions that are suggested by the factual evidence. The expert may testify as to whether a particular event occurred, who the person was who caused the event to occur, or how the event occurred. These basic questions of “whether”, “who”, and “how” are the subjects of the variety of scientific evidence examined in this book. The question of whether an event occurred is one of the primary functions of social science expertise. Who committed an act is the subject of such areas as DNA, fingerprints, handwriting analysis, hair analysis, and bitemark analysis. The question of how an event occurred is often addressed in such areas as toolmarks, firearms and bullet comparisons, fire, explosion and arson testimony, and bloodstain pattern analysis.

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