“They Say They Want to Bring Me in Guilty”: On the Need to Make Forensic Identification Science Scientific

Thursday, March 19, 2015 • 7:00 p.m.
Exploratorium, Pier 15, Bay Observatory Gallery
Included with museum admission.
Adults Only (18+)
Buy Tickets

They're tryin' to track me down;
They say they want to bring me in guilty
For the killing of a deputy,
For the life of a deputy.
But I say
Oh, now, now. Oh!
(I shot the sheriff) the sheriff.
(But I swear it was in self-defense.)
Oh, no! (Oh, oh, oh) Yeah!
I say: I shot the sheriff oh, Lord!
(And they say it is a capital offense.)
—Bob Marley
In the movies and on TV, forensic identification sciences are represented as largely infallible, premium forms of science. The courts have also adopted this uncritical perspective. However, in a 2009 report on forensic science, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences observed that “We have reviewed available scientific evidence of the validity of the ACE-V method [for fingerprint identification] and found none.”
Beneath the surface of forensic practices roils a controversy little known to the general public: Outside of DNA profiling, there isn’t much science in the forensic identification sciences. (And even DNA profiling has its limitations.) Mainstays in the prosecutorial arsenal—identification of fingerprints, firearms, toolmarks, bitemarks, arson, handwriting, hair, and others—have little or no scientific basis. And yet they are routinely admitted in criminal prosecutions, often with breathtaking claims of scientific exactitude. Indeed, according to the Innocence Project, “Unvalidated or improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful convictions.”
Please join David Faigman in conversation with Barry Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and Andrea Roth, Assistant Professor of Law at Berkeley Law. Find out how the renowned Innocence Project has used DNA testing to free hundreds of innocent people, and learn about the current state of forensic evidence and the many reforms being considered for its future, including the work of the newly created National Commission on Forensic Science.

Barry C. Scheck is a Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. Along with Peter Neufeld, he is the co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization using DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongly convicted. Professor Scheck is a commissioner on New York's Forensic Science Review Board, a body that regulates all of the state's crime and forensic DNA laboratories. He is first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and serves on the board of the National Institute of Justice's Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. Professor Scheck is also a partner in the law firm Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin, LLP, specializing in civil rights and constitutional litigation.

Andrea Roth is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. She joined Berkeley Law’s faculty in 2011. Before Berkeley, Professor Roth was a Thomas Grey Fellow at Stanford Law School. Before Stanford, she worked for over eight years as a trial and appellate attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS), where she was a founding member of a Forensic Practice Group that studied and litigated forensic DNA typing, and lectured nationally on forensic science-related issues. Professor Roth is also a member of the Constitution Project's National Committee on DNA Collection. Among other areas of interest, her research focuses on the use of forensic science in criminal trials.

David L. Faigman is the John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and Director of the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science, and Health Policy. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including two books written for a general audience: Laboratory of Justice: The Supreme Court’s 200-Year Struggle to Integrate Science and the Law (2004) and Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law(1999). Professor Faigman has been widely cited by scholars and courts, including several times by the United States Supreme Court. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel that investigated the scientific validity of polygraphs and is a member of the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Network.

Comments are closed.