Radley Balko, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, has just published an article dealing with the justice system’s refusal/inability to deal appropriately with false, fake, unscientific, and discredited forensic evidence post conviction.
The focus is on a case that involves the infamous Dr. Steven Hayne, a now thoroughly discredited expert witness, who was sole medical examiner for the state of Mississippi for 20 years. I urge you to read the entire article, but I’ve extracted a few particularly telling quotes:
• “The courts and the people who operate in them seem to feel that the integrity of the system demands the preservation of verdicts.”
Addressing the fact that the body of scientific knowledge grows as a process, rather than an event; coupled with the legal time restrictions for introduction of new evidence ————
• “From the perspective of the wrongly convicted, you can see the trap here. File too soon, and the court may conclude that you haven’t presented enough evidence that the forensic theory upon which you were convicted has been discredited. If you then try to file more petitions as more evidence comes out to bolster your argument, you risk the court concluding that this is an issue you’ve already raised, you lost, and you’re therefore barred from raising it again.”
• “Koon was convicted due to testimony from an expert the court now admits isn’t credible. For the same court to nevertheless uphold his conviction because he missed a deadline is to keep him in prison on a technicality. It’s a cynical outcome that suggests the criminal justice system values process more than justice.”
Read the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.
“The belief that hidden memories can be ‘recovered’ in therapy should have been exorcised years ago, when a rash of false memories dominated the airwaves, tore families apart and put people on the stand for crimes they didn’t commit,” Pacific Standard magazine reports in a story you can find here.
Sadly, pseudoscientific recovery therapy is still being used, and, Pacific Standard says, “people are still paying the price.”
The National Academy of Sciences of the United States published it’s Congressionally commissioned report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward,” in 2009. This was in response to the realization that a lot of what goes on in forensics can be called “junk science.” That is, much of it is not scientifically proven, is not statistically valid, is not reliable, and is very subject to the biases of individual examiners. We have featured the NAS report previously on this blog here, here, and here.
Not surprisingly, the NAS report was met with “stonewall” and dismissive resistance from the extant forensics community, as well as the National Association of District Attorneys. However, the report succeeded in bringing forensics under the scrutiny of scientific discipline, and made the public aware of its many shortcomings and failings. Subsequently, it was announced in 2013 that the US Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would jointly form the National Commission on Forensic Science to provide guidelines and recommendations for the conduct and use of forensic technology. The first meeting of the Commission was in February, 2014.
In an op-ed piece that will appear in tomorrow’s (10/19) print edition of the Boston Globe, Lee Scheier takes former prosecutor Martha Coakley to task for her “deft misuse of science” in the SBS conviction of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was working for the Eappen family when their 8-month-old son Matthew died in 1997.
Coakley is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, and recently set up a photo op with Deborah Eappen, Matthew’s mother, trying to defend her record on “protecting children.”
This quote from the article: “Coakley’s odd invocation of this case demands that we look at the facts. What cannot be lost in all of this political maneuvering is the truth about the Woodward case and all the thousands of shaken-baby cases before and since Woodward. The truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.” (emphasis mine)
See the Boston Globe op-ed here.
Thanks to Dr. John Plunkett for passing this along.
Mike Bowers, on his blog Forensics in Focus, has posted the news that a new “anti-junk science forensics” bill has been signed into law in California.
The law permits post conviction defendants the ability to contest expert testimony that was presented against them at trial. In other words, convictions in which experts have either repudiated their past testimony, or used forensic “science” that is later deemed faulty by legitimate research, are subject to later proceedings reversing that conviction.
This is a huge deal, because it prevents prosecutors and judges from just using old case law as an excuse for ignoring habeas corpus appeals expressing new forensic research and attitudes.