Many convictions in the criminal justice system are obtained through the use of forensic science.
In Australia, improper or unvalidated forensic science has been implicated in an estimated 31% of wrongful convictions. This is largely due to the lack of transparency in the field of forensic science compared to other scientific fields, such as medicine.
According to a recent University of Sydney article, research suggests that forensic science is often conducted behind closed doors and behind paywalls. This leads to a lack of scientific scrutiny of the data and methodologies involved in forensic science, and ultimately brings into question the very accuracy of forensic science.
Fingerprint identification, for instance, which began to be used in US courts in 1911, was only scientifically verified over the last two decades.
One of the most famous cases in Australia’s history, the death of Azaria Chamberlain and the subsequent conviction of Lindy Chamberlain for her murder, relied upon forensic science in such areas as ultraviolet photographs of Azaria’s jumpsuit, foetal blood spray patterns on the dashboard of the Chamberlains’ car, evidence of foetal blood on the front seat, and the weight attached to each of the above by the jury and the judge.
Subsequently, all of the evidence about foetal blood was found to be a “sound deadener” sprayed on during the manufacture of the car.
Three years later the matinee jacket was found, and Lindy Chamberlain was released.
So much for forensic evidence.
Despite the question marks over the accuracy and validity of forensic science, courts around the world remain deferential to forensic witnesses and evidence. This creates an obvious problem – if a prosecutor relies on erroneous forensic findings, the evidence is distorted, which may ultimately result in a wrongful conviction.
This is particularly significant in the field of criminal law, where there is already an imbalance between the resources available to prosecutors (the state) and defendants. Accused parties may be incapable of adequately assessing the scientific case against them, and of putting forward other evidence. The article notes:
There is well-established imbalance in the state’s ability to develop a forensic scientific case against an accused and the accused’s ability to assess that case and gather his or her own evidence.
This inequity is heightened when the foundational science behind the state’s case was conducted opaquely and published in paywalled journals.
If you need any advice in relation to any criminal matter, then contact Martin Bullock Lawyers on 02 9687 9322.