Over the past few years, scientists have been re-evaluating the way they view several subspecialties of forensic science. People in California who have been accused of crimes should know that problems have been uncovered with firearm, bite-mark and even footwear analysis. In fact, in 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology published a paper about the problems with these kinds of evidence.
The trouble with forensics
Forensic science is a field that can be fraught with conflicts of interest. One issue that’s often been pointed out by observers is that forensic scientists usually have a very clear goal. Though there are forensic specialists who work in the private sector, most are employed by the state. That is to say, most of them work for the prosecution. They may be biased, consciously or unconsciously, towards finding ways to convict defendants. This creates a problem for anyone working on a criminal defense.
Another issue is that the world of forensic science is very insular. There aren’t many peer-reviewed studies related to the methods and materials that are currently used in the specialty. In fact, groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists say that it’s difficult to scientifically test some of the methods currently used in forensics. Falsifiability is key when it comes to the scientific method. If something can’t be tested, its accuracy can’t be measured properly.
Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice was combative about these challenges to current forensic practices. However, it seems that is changing. Under the new administration, there is room for collaboration with scientists, and the possibility of reform. The hope is that new and more scientifically sound methods could lead to improvement throughout the system overall.