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Even a conviction based on forensic evidence might be appealed

For many, the term “forensic evidence” conjures up an association with science, or a process that has been verified by the scientific method. Yet it would be a mistake to characterize all types of forensic evidence as 100 percent accurate.

Fingerprint identification, hair or fiber analysis, and DNA samples are all examples of evidence that are presumably analyzed by standards established in the scientific community. The method of science used to analyze the evidence generally requires the testimony of an expert. Yet a report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology concluded that a number of forensic methods, commonly presented as legal evidence in a criminal trial, might be faulty -- even with expert testimony supposedly authenticating them. Specifically, the PCAST report listed several forensic methods as unreliable, and hence, lacking an adequate scientific basis: bite mark and footwear analysis, microscopic hair comparisons, and firearms identification. A recent article went so far as to call the methods “junk science.”

Notably, the FBI recently collaborated in a joint study with the Innocence Project on hair examiner expert testimony in criminal cases. Their report listed concerns in about 95 percent of the cases examined. Fortunately, DNA evidence can be a powerful way to achieve a post-conviction exoneration in cases where faulty forensic science led to an unfavorable outcome. Yet DNA evidence may not always be available. It must also be analyzed for its integrity, as errors in the handling or lab may also contaminate it.

Our law firm focuses on appeals and post-conviction services for criminal defendants. We understand that expert testimony on faulty or even tainted evidence can be very damaging, perhaps unduly influencing the jury and resulting in a wrongful or unjust conviction. That’s why we examine every aspect of the underlying criminal case to form the best strategy for our clients when bringing an appeal.

Source: Washington Post, “A wake-up call on the junk science infesting our courtrooms,” Harry T. Edwards and Jennifer L. Mnookin, Sept. 20, 2016

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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