CSI on Trial

…to judge by the most
comprehensive study on the reliability of forensic evidence to date,
the error rate is more than 10% in five categories of analysis,
including fiber, paint and body fluids. …DNA
and fingerprints are more reliable but still not foolproof….a 2005 study in the  Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology
suggests a fingerprint false-positive rate a bit below 1%, a widely
read 2006 experiment shows an alarming 4% false-positive rate.

How can we preserve the
usefulness of forensic evidence while protecting the public when it
breaks down? The core problem with the forensic system is monopoly.
Once evidence goes to one lab, it is rarely examined by any other. That
needs to change.
Each jurisdiction should
include several competing labs. …

This procedure may seem like a waste. But such checks would save
taxpayer money. Extra tests are inexpensive compared to the cost of
error, including the cost of incarcerating the wrongfully convicted….

Other reforms should include
making labs independent of law enforcement and a requirement for blind
testing. When crime labs are part of the police department, some
forensic experts make mistakes out of an unconscious desire to help
their "clients," the police and prosecution. Independence and blind
testing prevent that.

That’s forensics expert Roger Koppl writing in Forbes.  If anything I think Koppl is being kind to CSI.  Take bullet lead analysis a procedure used by the FBI for decades that turns out to have no scientific validity whatsoever.

Full Disclosure: Koppl’s op-ed is based on a paper in a book called Law Without Romance edited by Ed Lopez to be published by Independent Institute where I am director of research.


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