Sleuthing Scientific Evidence Information on the Internet

By Henderson, Carol; Botluk, Diana | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Sleuthing Scientific Evidence Information on the Internet


Henderson, Carol, Botluk, Diana, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION GENERAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND TRAINING IN FORENSIC   SCIENCE FINDING FORENSIC SCIENCE-RELATED ARTICLES FORENSIC SCIENCE ASSOCIATIONS & ORGANIZATIONS WEB RESOURCES RELATED TO SPECIFIC FORENSIC SCIENCE TOPICS   Forensic Pathology   Forensic Anthropology   Biometrics   Forensic Botany   Toxicology   Fingerprints   DNA   Firearms   Forensic Odontology   Questioned Documents FINAL THOUGHTS 

INTRODUCTION

There is no ignoring the impact of scientific evidence in the legal system today. New developments in science and technology are advancing at a rapid pace. Digital and multimedia sciences, canine scent detection, and touch DNA are just a few of the scientific fields that continue to perplex the justice system as they evolve at an exponential rate. Judges, attorneys, scientists, and law enforcement need to keep abreast of scientific advances. Non-uniformity among forensic laboratory operational and accreditation standards has contributed to the challenge faced by the legal community as a whole. A sturdy framework of interdisciplinary communication and scientific training has become a necessity for the legal and forensic communities to more effectively and reliably use scientific evidence, particularly in criminal prosecutions.

While scientific evidence is a key component of proof in many legal matters, it is not infallible or free from misapprehension. It is the ethical responsibility of judges, attorneys, and expert witnesses to understand and reliably explain this increasingly complex evidence to the jury. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 and 1.3 regarding competence and diligence require an attorney to provide reasonably competent representation, which could include seeking expert advice and additional scientific testing. (1) Unrealistic juror expectations of forensic evidence and its accuracy (the so-called "CSI Effect") has become a prevalent issue among criminal prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. (2) Lawyers need to be aware of the ethical implications of errant experts, and failing to diligently verify the credentials of expert witnesses. (3) Lawyers also need to be prepared to challenge opposing experts in order to test the veracity of an expert witness' testimony and the scientific principles of his expert opinion. (4) The lawyer who turns a blind eye to these advances and expectations does so at her own peril and to the detriment of her client and the justice system as a whole.

Congress recognized the importance of scientific evidence to the legal system and called for the creation of an independent forensic science committee at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to identify the needs of the forensic science community, including assessing present and future resource needs of labs, medical examiner, and coroner offices; identifying potential scientific advances that will assist law enforcement in using forensic technologies; and determining how to disseminate best practices and guidelines to ensure quality and consistency in the use of technologies and techniques." This effort resulted in the report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (NAS Report). (6)

The NAS Report noted that "[l]awyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methods, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the strengths and vulnerabilities of forensic science evidence offered during trials." (7) Additionally, the NAS Report stated:

   The fruits of any advances in the forensic science disciplines    should be transferred directly to legal scholars and practitioners,    ... members of the judiciary, and [other members of the justice    system] ... so that appropriate adjustments can be made in criminal    and civil laws and procedures, model jury instructions, law    enforcement practices, litigation, strategies, and judicial    decision making. … 

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