Many wrongful convictions are based on forensic testimony based on science later exposed as flawed. A California statute this year laid out the terms for granting relief to defendants challenging ‘expert’ evidence—but striking the right balance between evolving scientific research and trial pressures remains a challenge, says a UC law professor.
Fran and Dan Keller served 21 years in prison for one of Austin’s most notorious and lurid cases — the alleged sexual abuse of children in their daycare center in 1991. They were freed in 2013 based upon errors in physical evidence used against them but had awaited the official declaration of innocence that came this week.
The FBI has acknowledged that at least 13 individuals in Wisconsin were convicted as a result of flawed evidence involving hair and fiber, according to Wisconsin Watch. Such errors –a factor in one-fifth of all DNA exonerations— add fuel to the burgeoning national debate over the validity of forensic evidence.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has canned a a commission of scientists and legal scholars charged with scrutinizing questionable forensic practices, including hair, handwriting and bite-mark analysis. The onus is now on defense attorneys to challenge such evidence on a case-by-case basis.
The U.S. Attorney General is turning back the clock on the use of questionable forensic practices, such as bite-mark testimony and comparisons of hair, handwriting, tire treads and footprints. New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer, who has written extensively about these practices, says they resemble magic more than science.
The Attorney General says he will use an in-house team of law enforcement advisers to replace a 30-member panel of scientists, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers created by the Obama administration in 2013.
A California legislator will once again try to expand the collection of DNA evidence in criminal cases, which has declined under Proposition 47’s reassignment of some former felonies to misdemeanor status.
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report says the nation’s 409 publicly funded crime labs had an estimated backlog of 570,100 requests for forensic services at the end of 2014, down from 895,500 backlogged requests five years earlier.