Examining Forensics

July 17, 2009 • Volume 19, Issue 25
Are new research and oversight needed?
By Kenneth Jost


Errors in trial
	testimony - A case study of George Rodriguez. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
George Rodriguez is free after spending 17 years in a Texas prison for a rape he did not commit. Rodriguez, who was awarded $5 million, is one of four men released from prison in recent years because of errors in trial testimony by Houston crime lab examiners. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Crime-scene investigations play an important role in gathering evidence for criminal trials — from fingerprints and blood samples to DNA and digital data. But expert witnesses known collectively as forensic scientists or criminalists must analyze the evidence to help the judge and jury determine a defendant's guilt or innocence. A congressionally mandated study, however, says major changes are needed to strengthen forensic science. The reliability of some identification techniques used in court is unproven, the report says, and even established techniques such as fingerprint analysis are less certain than commonly believed. In addition, crime laboratories are underregulated, underfunded and understaffed — and may have a conflict of interest because they are tied to law enforcement agencies. Criminal-defense lawyers are applauding the report, as are some forensics experts. But resistance from law enforcement agencies and crime labs themselves may slow or block reforms.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 27, 2022  Crime in America
Feb. 10, 2017  Forensic Science Controversies
Feb. 05, 2016  Restorative Justice
Jan. 30, 2015  Central American Gangs
Aug. 29, 2014  Transnational Crime
Aug. 09, 2013  Sexual Assault in the Military
Oct. 26, 2012  Mexico's Future
Apr. 20, 2012  Criminal Records and Employment
Apr. 19, 2011  Honor Killings
Sep. 2010  Crime in Latin America
Jul. 16, 2010  Gangs in the U.S.
Jul. 17, 2009  Examining Forensics
Apr. 17, 2009  Wrongful Convictions Updated
Feb. 08, 2008  Fighting Crime
Oct. 11, 2002  Corporate Crime
Apr. 04, 1997  Declining Crime Rates
Dec. 10, 1982  Arson: America's Most Costly Crime
May 07, 1982  Helping Victims of Crime
Mar. 13, 1981  Violent Crime's Return to Prominence
Jul. 15, 1977  Crime Reduction: Reality or Illusion
Jan. 19, 1972  Crime of Rape
Jan. 22, 1969  Street Crime in America
Jan. 17, 1968  Burglary Prevention
Sep. 22, 1965  Compensation for Victims of Crime
Feb. 17, 1965  Criminal Justice and Crime Control
Oct. 18, 1961  Control of City Crime
Jun. 20, 1929  Crime and the Courts
Crime and Law Enforcement