Forensic Science Misconduct

In some cases, forensic science evidence can lead to life or death, so misconduct in this area is especially disturbing. False testimony, exaggerated statistics, and laboratory fraud have all led to wrongful convictions. Jurors often give forensic science more weight, because it is provided by “experts.” However, when misconduct occurs, the added weight is damaging and can lead to wrongful convictions. In some cases, labs and their personnel are not impartial, because they are too closely tied to police and prosecutors. Other times, a criminologist who lacks necessary knowledge may exaggerate findings and does not have to worry about being caught because the lawyer, judge, and jury have no background in the relevant science. And still in more cases, critical evidence is destroyed, so that re-testing to uncover the misconduct is impossible. What is most disturbing is that in these cases, wrongful convictions will never be overturned.

The Facts
Many people deal with forensic evidence at different stages in the criminal process. Identification, collection, testing, storage, handling, and reporting of evidence can be deliberately or accidentally mishandled at any stage:

  • At the crime scene, evidence can be planted, destroyed, or mishandled
  • At the forensic lab, evidence can be contaminated, poorly tested, consumed or mislabeled
  • In the report, results can be misrepresented

DNA exonerations have revealed a number of cases where results were reported on evidence when no test was actually done!

Remedies
A number of reforms could limit the number of cases where forensic misconduct occurs. For example, the Innocence Project suggests states impose standards on the preservation and handling of evidence. In addition, when exonerations suggest misconduct of an analyst or that a facility lacked proper procedures or oversight, independent audits of their work in other cases should take place to uncover the possibility of other wrongful convictions.

 

Courtesy of Innocence Project of Minnesota (©2007)