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New rules needed for forensic evidence to keep trials fair

A study by various legal experts indicates that our nation's courtrooms need a big overhaul. More specifically, there need to be stronger standards in place to keep wrongful convictions at bay.

Right now, there's too much of a reliance on forensic evidence that's questionable (at best) or deeply flawed. The problem, say the authors of the study, is that shoddy forensic evidence, erratic collection methods and generally inconsistent rules about how forensic evidence is evaluated all create a culture in the courtroom where forensics rule, prosecutors have an automatic advantage and nobody questions the source material that's putting people behind bars.

It isn't a conspiracy. Instead, it's a breakdown in the way that individual forensic "experts" and individual forensic labs do business.

In recent years, there's been a rash of forensic horror stories. In Texas, one lab was closed after officials discovered its technicians were still using methods that had been considered outdated since 2010 to give DNA matches. Another Texas lab found technicians tampering with evidence to give prosecutors the evidence they needed to get convictions. California officials had to review 1,400 criminal convictions after a lab tech and her boss both flunked their DNA proficiency exams.

These represent only a fraction of the incidents that have cropped up around the country, yet judges and prosecutors still blindly trust the forensic "experts" they use and evidence that they shouldn't be admitting. For example, bite-mark evidence has been discredited as unreliable for a while now, but courts still routinely allow dental matches to bite marks into evidence.

The solution proposed by the authors is to make the pretrial proceedings for criminal cases similar to the pretrial proceedings for a civil case. That would create a more open exchange of information that would give defense attorneys the ability to see all the evidence -- not just what the prosecutor deems important. That might put exculpatory evidence in the hands of the defense that otherwise would get tucked away in a file because the prosecution doesn't feel it is relevant or exculpatory enough -- which is perfectly legal under the current rules.

If you're facing a criminal trial, be conscious of the fact that prosecution already has the upper hand. Don't try to go through the process without a criminal defense attorney by your side.

Source: The Crime Report, "Forensic Fraud and the 'Insidious' Culture of U.S. Courtrooms," TCR Staff, Sep. 15, 2017

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