Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Prosecutors defend junk science since it makes convictions easier

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Prosecutors in general don’t really care all that much about justice. Their mission, as they seem to see it, is to secure as many convictions as possible for as lengthy a sentence as possible, and whether the facts support that is irrelevant. The idea given is that if the two advocates, one for prosecution and one for defense, do everything they can, then whatever happens is “justice.” Thus we have prosecutors burying or destroying exculpatory evidence, using testimoney from jailhouse snitches that is purchased with reduced charges, and of course the generous use of bogus science.

And “prosecutors” very much includes Federal attorneys: the Department of Justice has come out strongly in favor of bogus science—as they would: the FBI forensics labs were the epitome of bogus science. (Remember when the FBI fingerprint analysis proved that the man in Portland Oregon had been in Madrid at the time of the bombing there? Only the man was in Portland and had absolutely no connection with the bombing. Still, the FBI insisted that their (bogus) science proved that he was there, until the police in Madrid let the FBI know that their “assistance” was no longer needed (or desired).

Bert at notes:

This week, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (“PCAST”) released a system-shaking report that explains how several fields of forensic analysis—including bite-mark analysis, hair comparisons, and shoeprint analysis—lack adequate scientific validation. Although many of these techniques have not been shown to be sufficiently reliable, they have been permitted to produce evidence in criminal cases across the country for many years. It is no wonder that D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Edwards and Jennifer Mnookin, the dean of UCLA’s law school, wrote in the Washington Post that “[t]he report is a much-needed wake-up call to all who care about the integrity of the criminal-justice system.” Rather than waking up, however, the National District Attorneys Association (“NDAA”) is doubling down on the pseudo-science masquerading as forensic evidence. Given that district attorneys themselves widely evade accountability and face inadequate constraints on their power, perhaps it is no surprise that their representative organization is unwilling to stomach expert scrutiny of the evidence prosecutors introduce in criminal trials every day.

PCAST is no group of unqualified slouches, it is a prestigious body comprised of well-respected scientists from around the country. As Judge Edwards and Mnookin (senior advisors to the report) explain, “[w]hat is noteworthy about the new report is that it is written solely by eminent scientists who carefully assess forensic methods according to appropriate scientific standards.”  Yet, in a press release issued shortly after a draft of the report was circulated before its official publication (and likely before most of the NDAA’s members even read it), the NDAA claimed that the report’s authors suffer from a “lack of qualifications” and asserted that the report’s conclusions are “scientifically irresponsible.” The basis for these harsh allegations? The mere fact that PCAST had the gall to call the prevailing system into question without deference to “settled law”. Their press release reads: “Notwithstanding the lack of qualifications, PCAST has taken it upon itself to usurp the Constitutional role of the Courts and decades of legal precedent and insert itself as the final arbiter of the reliability and admissibility of the information generated through these forensic science disciplines.”

Indeed, “settled law” has been responsible for the continued reliance on even the worst of forensic practices, including bite-mark analysis. Some defendants are still facing lifelong sentences—if not execution—today as a result of convictions based on this faulty forensic evidence. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has been following atrail of these cases from Mississippi for years. These cases suggest that, like the NDAA, some thoroughly discredited forensic “experts” like Michael West are totally unwilling to accept challenges to the scientific validity of the work. Indeed, Balko recently reported that West “gave [] testimony in [] cases that resulted in convictions of people we now know were not guilty. Yet he doesn’t show the slightest bit of regret or reverence for what has happened. Only defiance.” Defiance.

PCAST’s report does not undermine all forensic disciplines; far from it. Instead, it recommends that those disciplines develop standards to validate their methods. In other words, it embraces the basic proposition that the scientific method should be used to evaluate the fitness of “scientific” evidence regularly brought into criminal trials. And, at this juncture, “many forensic techniques do not yet pass scientific muster . . . . impl[ying] [that] these techniques are not ready for use in the courtroom either.”

If prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than simply push for convictions, why is the leading organization of prosecutors so forcefully battling scientists who want to ensure that courtroom evidence is more reliable? . . .

Continue reading. The intro provides, I think, the answer to the question at the break, but continue reading to see Bert’s answer. And do continue reading. Later in the post:

We have observed that aggressive prosecutors often rely on bogus “science” to paper over weak or even plainly vindictive prosecutions.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2016 at 12:03 pm

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