Examples of Law Enforcement Resistance to Science: Part II

Posted: June 20, 2012 in Resisting Science
Tags: , , , ,

When I say that law enforcement resists the benefits of science, there are few better examples than the reaction to the 2009 report on forensic science.

After some high-profile forensic failures — especially the FBI’s botched fingerprint mis-identification of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield as a perpetrator of the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 — Congress ordered the National Academy of Sciences to take a hard look at forensic science.  The result was a comprehensive, unflinching, and scientifically honest look at the very basis of all of the fields of forensic testing.  Issued in 2009, Strengthen Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, caused an earthquake in the forensic world.

The 2009 report said what some had long suspected: with the exception of DNA testing and classic chemical analysis, most forensic science lacked any real scientific basis.

The fact is that many forensic tests—such as those used to infer the source of toolmarks or bite marks—have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny…[C]omparison of their results with DNA testing in the same cases has revealed that some of these analyses, as currently performed, produce erroneous results….[Even] the scientific foundation of the fingerprint field has been questioned, and the suggestion has been made that latent fingerprint identifications may not be as reliable as previously assumed.

How did the law enforcement community react to the news from the National Academy of Sciences that forensic science urgently needed work and research?  In two words: not very.  In a video still available on the web site of the National District Attorneys Association, William Fitzpatrick, an elected prosecutor from New York State and an NDAA board member, says that the the report will mean that prosecutors with multiple types of evidence implicating a killer — a match of the bullet that killed the victim to a particular gun, a fingerprint in blood, and an eyewitness willing to testify — will not be able to charge the killer because the evidence would be considered too weak.  Christopher Chiles, another elected prosecutor and then the NDAA president, says that the report “does not show that there are problems with forensic science….The science is valid, the science is good, and the science can be proven and replicated.”

There is no other way to say this: no, that isn’t what the report says.

Take a look at the NDAA video for yourself.


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