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Forensic Evidence: Science or Pseudoscience?

At last week’s annual State Public Defender conference Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, did a presentation about new challenges to forensic science evidence that could be brought using Wisconsin’s recently adopted changes to the rules governing expert opinion testimony. He noted that so-called “pattern matching” analyses—which involve comparison of, for example, fingerprints, hair, bite marks, tool marks on bullets, and handwriting samples—are ripe for challenge. He recommended an article by Karen Kafadar about statistical issues in evaluating forensic evidence. Below are links to that article, along with other resources that might help practitioners contemplating a challenge to various types of forensic evidence.

  • The Karen Kafadar is “Statistical Issues in Assessing Forensic Evidence,” 83 Int’l Statistical Rev. 111 (2015).
  • For commentary on the Kafadar article by David Kaye, a law professor specializing in forensic evidence issues (and co-author of the The New Wigmore), see this post at his blog, Forensic Science, Statistics, and the Law (which, as the name suggests, also has other posts on forensic science issues).
  • Another source for information about all kinds of forensic science issues is the National Institute of Justice, which has a forensic sciences page and a page listing publications on topics running the gamut from general issues in forensic sciences to specific types of forensic evidence.
  • For a nontechnical review of pattern matching and other forensic evidence problems, take a look at “Forensic Pseudoscience” by Nathan Robinson, in the current issue of Boston Review.
  • Finally, NYU law professor Erin Murphy criticizes the use of even the newer, more sophisticated forensic sciences, and from a very different angle: “[A]lmost every aspect of the adversarial process, as currently conceived, is ill-suited to ensuring the integrity of high-tech evidence.” Her article is “The Mismatch Between 21st Century Forensic Evidence and Our Antiquated Criminal Justice System,” 87 S. Cal. L. Rev. 633 (2014).
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