Sunday, August 24, 2008

Improving the Practice and Use of Forensic Science

Forensic science can be a powerful tool for seeking truth in criminal investigations and trials, but it is not flawless. A recent study found that faulty forensic evidence or testimony was a contributing factor in nearly sixty percent of wrongful convictions.

Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were two of those wrongfully convicted based on inaccurate and misleading forensic evidence. A visual hair comparison - a “science” that has an error rate as high as sixty-seven percent on individual samples - was a major factor in their convictions. They spent over a decade in jail, with Williamson on death row, until DNA testing proved their innocence in 1999. The DNA at the crime scene matched the man who originally led police to Williamson and Fritz.

The problems in Fritz and Williamson’s case are among those highlighted in a new publication from The Justice Project (TJP), which is designed to help states improve the quality of evidence in criminal trials and increase fairness and accuracy within the criminal justice system.

A new publication from The Justice Project (TJP),
Improving the Practice and Use of Forensic Science: A Policy Review, provides an overview of the problems with certain forensic science policies and procedures, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and procedures, and includes a model policy for the states.

The Justice Project recommends that:

· States create an independent, transparent oversight commission to develop and enforce quality standards for forensic science laboratories.
· States require all forensic science laboratories to develop internal structures and policies to prevent bias in testing and analysis.
· States require that all forensic laboratories are independent from law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
· States require that all forensic laboratory analysts receive proper training and certification.
· States allocate sufficient funding to adequately implement these recommendations.

To ensure a more fair and accurate criminal justice system, it is critical to improve the reliability, objectivity, and independence of forensic analysis and testimony in criminal trials and investigations. This and other policy reviews are available on TJP’s website at

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