What if forensic evidence was not so scientific? What if investigators could use DNA found at a crime scene to put together a sketch of a suspect that includes bone structure, hair and skin color, other facial features, and even ethnic origin? If it sounds like something you would see only on CSI, you might be surprised. DNA phenotyping is a new technique being used by law enforcement agencies to create a physical likeness based simply on genetic material. Police naturally see the potential of this technology to put away bad guys, but what if it isn’t as scientific as it sounds? And worse, what if it’s convicting innocent people? In a recent National Geographic article, critics say that this technique and many others that have long been used, like fingerprints, bite-mark analysis, and hair analysis, are not scientific at all. What’s worse, they may be no more reliable than eyewitness testimony and sketch artistry, likely suffering from the same issues of vagueness and inexactitude that routinely prove to be fatal flaws for those techniques.
There is a long history of using forensic techniques to provide testimony in American courtrooms. Experts, with experience in various crafts, provide merit to the methodology and effectiveness of these techniques. Years of such testimony have also provided strong precedential authority to its usage therefore attesting to its supposed value in seeking justice. However, as technology improves, we’ve seen that many of the techniques courts have relied upon are more craft than science and, therefore, susceptible to purposeful falsification or just simply reinforce our preconceived, subconscious prejudices.
The Nat Geo article states: “In 2009 the National Academy of Sciences released a blistering report calling into question the scientific validity of the analysis of fingerprints, bite marks, blood spatters, clothing fiber, handwriting, bullet markings, and many other mainstays of forensic investigation.” In short, our courts have been guilty at times of giving greater weight to what amounts to general opinion testimony and this power can be abused. “The FBI admits that its analysts have made erroneous statements in more than 90 percent of the microscopic-hair-comparison cases it has reviewed.” Finally, shows like CSI, unfortunately, help create a culture where we all just assume that the “science” being employed in investigations is sound, when oftentimes, its really no better than guessing.
If you or someone you care about is facing charges based on forensic evidence and expert testimony, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney that knows how to challenge the evidence. At the Law Office of John Freeman, PLLC we can help. Let Michigan defense attorney and former federal prosecutor John Freeman put his 23 years of experience to work for you today.