Scientific Report Should Impact Federal Criminal Cases

Later this month, the National Academy of Sciences (the nation’s pre-eminent scientific research group) is scheduled to release a report that is sure to impact the manner in which criminal defense attorneys litigate some federal criminal cases. According to news stories, people who have seen the report “say it is a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting.”

Among other things, the report concludes that forensic analysts are often poorly trained technicians who exaggerate the accuracy of their methods in court. In addition, the current draft of the report states that the forensic science field suffered from a reliance on outmoded and untested theories by analysts who often have no background in science, statistics or other empirical disciplines. The report also “concludes that Congress should create a federal agency to guarantee the independence of the field, which has been dominated by law enforcement agencies, say forensic professionals, scholars and scientists who have seen review copies of the study.”

Criminal defense attorneys that practice in both federal and state court routinely encounter forensic science issues. For this reason, our firm will continue to follow this story as it develops, and we are anxious to see the final report. Indeed, according to an individual who has reviewed the report: “I’m sure that every defense attorney in the country is waiting for this report to come out. There are going to be challenges to fingerprints and firearms evidence and the general lack of empirical grounding. It’s going to be big.” The full New York Times story discussing the draft report can be found here.