Junk Science and Law Enforcement

Law enforcement uses a number of techniques to convict criminal defendants that appear on the surface to be scientific, but really are not. No, we are not talking about DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate many wrongfully-accused defendants. We are talking about other forensic techniques that were created by the FBI, but have scant scientific merit. In this article, we will take a look at some of that junk science.

Profiling and Behavioral Sciences

We all love Thomas Harris novels and TV shows like Criminal Minds, but the truth is profiling is useless. Not only is it basically stereotyping, but you can pull any Joe off the street and get a similar result to what a trained profiler would produce. 

For years, the FBI used profiling to convict criminals, but it turned out they were just spitballing whatever association came into their head based on the crime scene. While this is dramatized as artistic imagination and empathy by writers like Thomas Harris, it is actually baseless speculation.

Forensic Methods Questioned by Scientists

Essentially, scientists had an issue with several of the “pattern matching disciplines” that the FBI uses when convicting suspects. These include, but are not limited to, any of the following forensic disciplines:

  • Bite mark comparison
  • Fingerprint comparison
  • Matching bullets to guns
  • Shoe-tread analysis
  • Complex DNA mixture comparison

The conclusion came from a groundbreaking report published in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. The National Research Council pointed out that the FBI methods relied almost entirely on the subjective comparisons of individual “experts.” Of course, these “experts” are often coached by prosecutors to provide testimony that helps convict. 

In other words, these methods do not involve empirical testing. Since an “expert” is giving their “opinion.” it does not need to be factually or scientifically accurate to make its way before a jury. The court just needs to recognize the individual as an expert. This allowed hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals to be convicted on “close” matches that were not identical. 

What Does This Mean?

Jurors are not expected to be able to follow along with complex scientific issues. In fact, they are expected to not understand these issues. They then weigh the evidence of a supposed forensic expert who is placed on the stand to give his opinion. These opinions can be anything the FBI wants.

While defense attorneys can also put on their own expert witnesses, challenging the forensics is often difficult. It is not a matter of knowing, but trusting. Jurors tend to trust government scientists more than forensic experts placed on the stand by defense attorneys. 

Regardless of the fact that many have had convictions overturned based on the questioning of junk science, the FBI, DHS, DEA, and other federal agencies still use it to try defendants. 

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are being prosecuted for a crime, you need an attorney who understands how prosecutions work and can successfully challenge the authority of government witnesses. Call David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 to learn more about how we can help. 

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