Jim Dwyer: Innocence, Guilt and Science
The advent of DNA fingerprinting in the late ‘80’s did more than provide a new, more exacting way to connect criminals and their crimes. It exposed just how badly other forensic techniques could fail. There have been hundreds of wrongful convictions overturned thanks to DNA, and in case after case, forms of evidence and analysis thought to be reliable actually helped convict the innocent. Everything from hair comparisons to fiber and blood spatter analysis to footprint matching – as well as mistaken eyewitness testimony and false confessions – had led juries to reach woefully wrong conclusions.
Sherlock Holmes and CSI notwithstanding, it turns out a lot of forensic science isn’t so scientific after all. Some disciplines, like ballistics and hair matching, are merely inexact and error prone. Others, like “bite mark analysis,” are downright junk. Lacking clear baseline data, oversight and standards of verification, the results are too often subject to bias and liable to support whatever theory investigators have latched onto.
Jim Dwyer, Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter and columnist for the New York Times, has been covering wrongful convictions and DNA-based exonerations for years. He and I talked about the many ways conventional forensics can go wrong, as described and demonstrated in his recent eBook False Conviction.
We’ll post the audio of the show here soon.