The science or the people who are dodgy?

By Anna Sandiford 14/04/2010

Is there something wrong with forensic science or is there something wrong with some of the people doing the work?  Much is being made of fundamental issues with certain areas of forensic science (such as validation and incompetence, assessing DNA databases), so much so that some judges in the USA have said that science should be assessed before it gets to court and if the Defence isn’t going to assess it then they shoud justify why not.

Perhaps part of the problem is some of the people doing the work, like we reported when we weren’t looking. Here is another example: Sheriff Fires CSI Commander After Evidence Tampering Conviction. A Crime Scene Investigator in the States has been convicted of planting blood stain evidence in a vehicle in order to bolster a case against two men who have now been released. The reports I have read are silent on whether the blood sample was actually planted in the car (a different investigator did not notice a stain in the vehicle) or whether the CSI says that he found the sample in the car but actually used another sample such as the result from a DNA reference sample from one or both of the suspects.

It has long been recognised that the mental health of people dealing with traumatic events on a daily basis should be checked and people given the medical/psychological support they need. Depending on employer, forensic scientists are regularly offered access to counselling after dealing with horrific crime scenes (or even that one case that you didn’t expect to affect you but it did). But it is also vital to somehow look after their impartiality as well so that the justice system isn’t compromised by people thinking they’re doing the right thing when they’re not.

How do we do it? I don’t have an answer. Any suggestions welcomed.

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