Study: Forensics rely on flawed science

Feb. 19, 2009 at 4:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Innocent people are sent to prison because forensics used in police stations and courtrooms rely on faulty science, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said.

Most forensics don't meet even minimal scientific standards but forensic scientists confidently assert the reliability of their findings when they testify in court, the report commissioned by Congress said.

Disciplines ranging from fingerprint comparisons to arson indicators are open to question, the report said.

Fingerprint quality can vary greatly and analysts "make subjective assessments" in deciding if a print can be linked to a particular individual, the report said.

In addition, there is little if any scientific research to support the claim that no two people share identical fingerprints, the report said.

In fact, except for DNA technology, "no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source," the report said.

The academy panel recommended Congress create an independent National Institute of Forensic Science to formulate standards for forensic disciplines, regulate training and accreditation and lead research.

It also recommended crime labs be autonomous from police departments or prosecutors' offices to head off any real or perceived bias toward law enforcement, CNN reported.

The report also said many labs were "underfunded and understaffed, which contributes to case backlogs and makes it hard for laboratories to do as much as they could to inform investigations and avoid errors."

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