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Fixing the Field of Forensics: The Washington Post Asks the Experts

Since the landmark National Academy of Science report published a decade ago, many people are willing to raise questions regarding the issues with forensics in the courtroom.

Washington Post contributor Radley Balko dug deeper into these concerns in a six-part series, interviewing a panel of experts in law, science and forensics. CSAFE researchers Brandon Garrett and Simon Cole were among the contributors.

What are these issues? A few include subjectivity in evidence analysis procedures, lack of standards for methods and cognitive bias.

Feasible solutions that fit within the context of the U.S criminal justice system are not easy to find, but Radley explores new ideas.

He asked the following six questions of 14 panelists:

  1. Who should determine what expertise a jury will and won’t be allowed to hear at trial? We need some way of assessing the reliability of scientific and expert testimony. What would the ideal system look like?


  1. What, other than single-source DNA testing, can be used in a criminal trial? Are critics of modern forensics saying that other fields don’t have value in front of a jury? How do we ensure that juries are accurately accounting for the shortcomings in these fields?


  1. How do we ensure that the justice system operates on reliable information? Is it even possible to “fact check” our courts in a way that enforces accountability, or are we simply stuck hoping that appeals court judges will admit and correct their mistakes?


  1. Do you agree that the qualities and characteristics of a good scientist are contradictory to, or even incompatible with, the sorts of experts that juries tend to find persuasive? If so, what can be done to address this problem?


  1. How much interaction between law enforcement and a forensic analyst is appropriate, and what safeguards can be put in place to minimize cognitive bias?


  1. Can you suggest three forms that would improve the quality of expert testimony in criminal cases?

Learn what the experts have to say by heading over to the Washington Post. Discover how CSAFE is working directly solve these problems by exploring our research and training initiatives.