Another day, another story.
Forensic laboratory results derived from technical analysis of genetically sampled material (think centrally DNA) are sometimes remarkable for what they can reveal. A drop of blood can solve a crime. Sampled saliva can lead to a killer. A single fingerprint can prove that a criminal suspect was here when he said he was there.
At other times, though, they are equally remarkable for their gross inaccuracy, which is fundamentally driven by human error.
And when that occurs, all that often stands between an innocent criminal suspect and a lengthy prison term is a practiced defense attorney who is properly suspicious of all state’s evidence and who demands that every alleged truth be proven as such beyond all reasonable doubt.
Police laboratories are certainly high profile in the public mind, given their recurring portrayal in crime dramas and the media as highly sophisticated environments where polished technicians practice scientific art that leads to precisely accurate and infallible conclusions.
That assessment, most reasonable people in Indiana and elsewhere now know, is nonsense. People make mistakes, and they make them in laboratories just as they do elsewhere.
With one fundamental difference: a lab-based error can yield incalculably harsh consequences for people who don’t merit them, even, in some instances, a death sentence.
National news outlets did exactly that recently by revealing the suspension of one lab director at a prominent forensics facility. Analysts working under that individual’s supervision were reportedly using out-of-date methods for analyzing DNA.
Investigators also discovered that, while serving as a national auditor for crime laboratories, she gave a passing score to one facility where it was later determined that employees lacked required training and were similarly using improper statistical and scientific methods in their work.
It is a core component of an experienced criminal defense attorney’s job to ensure that forensic evidence– indeed, all evidence — offered by authorities to support an allegation of criminal misconduct is subjected to a thorough vetting and proved to be true.
If it can’t clear that hurdle, it needs to be immediately spotlighted for what it patently is — bogus science that has no place in an arena where an individual’s freedom and reputation are at stake.