If you have even seen a TV show or movie depicting crime scene investigators, then you know that all it takes is a footprint in the dirt or a tiny hair to accurately identify a criminal, right? Not quite. It turns out that Hollywood makes forensic evidence seem a lot more foolproof than it actually is.
Recently, a White House advisory panel released a report concluding that forensic evidence still has a long way to go before it can be trusted as completely accurate, which came as a surprise to many in the criminal justice field because this type of evidence is used in many, many cases.
The panel pointed to a recent study by the FBI and the Innocence Project showing that in decades of criminal cases where DNA testing later proved convicts were innocent, flawed forensic evidence was discovered about 50 percent of the time.
More specifically, when it came to microscopic hair analysis testimony by the FBI, 95 percent of the cases contained errors. Bite-mark evidence was also proven to be erroneous in many cases that have resulted in exoneration based on DNA evidence.
So, why not just rely on DNA evidence in the first place, you ask? DNA evidence is not always available in cases, so prosecutors will use other forensic evidence instead. However, as this report shows, these other forms of evidence have not been validated as being scientifically accurate, even though they have been used for decades.
The report, which was issued by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), suggests that all methods for testing forensic evidence should be evaluated for error rates and accuracy. Those methods that cannot meet this standard should not be used in court, the report suggests. You can read more about it in an article from The Washington Post.
What this means for people charged with crimes
Unfortunately, the study by the FBI and the Innocence Project revealed that many people have been locked up for serious crimes based on faulty evidence, and this will probably keep happening for a while. Judges continue to allow the evidence in many cases because it has been regarded as standard practice for many decades.
Anyone charged with a serious crime should work with a criminal defense lawyer who understands the problems with these types of evidence and can argue as to why it should not be allowed in the case. Research shows that this kind of evidence is not accurate in many cases, and your lawyer needs to explain that to the judge.