Forensic Science Identification Evidence: Tensions Between Law and Science
Sarah Lucy Cooper
For decades, courtrooms around the world have admitted evidence from forensic science analysts, such as fingerprint, tool-mark and bite-mark examiners, in order to solve crimes. Scientific progress, however, has led to significant criticism of the ability of such disciplines to engage in individualization i.e., “match” suspects exclusively to evidence. Despite this, American courts largely reject legal challenges based on arguments that identification evidence provided by these forensic science disciplines is unreliable. In so holding, these courts affirm precedent that it is the adversarial system’s function to weed out frailties in forensic evidence, and find that criticism of the forensic sciences lacks sui generis qualities. This article provides an independent critique of relevant American case law, from which three themes emerge. These themes are (1) the law’s misuse of science; (2) law’s scepticism towards change; and (3) law’s narrow construction of rationality, which generates reductionist concepts, and divorces science from its social context. As such, this article shows how the American judiciary’s approach to this global issue provides a contemporary illustration of key institutional tensions between science and law, and offers some recommendations for reforms that aim to facilitate the legal process to utilize the most reliable forensic science evidence possible. More...
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Different Mistakes in the Law and the Difference They Make
There are various sorts of mistakes one might make regarding the law. For instance, one might incorrectly believe that there is a law when there isn’t one or that there is no law when there is. One might also know the law but incorrectly appraise the facts covered by the law. The former mistake is traditionally classified as a legal mistake while the latter is generally referred to as a factual mistake. Both those under the law and those charged with enforcing the law are capable of making both sorts of mistakes. As might well be expected, however, the consequences of a citizen’s legal or factual mistake might be quite distinct from those of the executive officer. Perhaps contrary to common belief concerning the protections afforded the accused, it is more likely for the government to forgive empirical and legal mistakes made by governmental officers than it is for the government to forgive those same mistakes made by private parties in the role of the criminally accused. More...
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