Thanks largely to TV crime shows, particularly those like CSI, the public knows more about forensic evidence than ever before. Unfortunately, much of that knowledge is only half-true or even outright fabrications. Here are a few of the most common myths about forensic science.
Forensic Science is Not Foolproof
While forensic science can help provide additional evidence of a suspect’s guilt, it simply can’t stand alone without good old fashioned police work. Aside from the fact that DNA and fingerprints can be left at a crime scene at any time before the crime actually occurred, it is a difficult process for crime teams to extract perfect samples. When samples are taken, they must follow a precise chain of command that needs to be perfectly documented, otherwise the samples can get lost, contaminated or otherwise compromised.
Fingerprinting is Not an Exact Science
Even when ideal samples do arrive in perfect condition, comparing fingerprints is difficult even for experts in the field. While every individual does have a unique fingerprint, the patterns are so intricate and differences are so subtle that recognizing a match takes a lot of skill. While computer technology has made matching prints easier, it is still not a perfect process.
In fact, a 2006 study by University of Southampton in England asked six top print examiners to review prints that (unbeknownst to them) they had previously examined. Only two of the six experts came to the same conclusions they arrived at in the first examination.
A real life example of this problem was presented when Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer in Portland, Oregon, was wrongly imprisoned for two weeks because his fingerprints were misidentified and he was wrongly connected to a Spanish train bomb in Madrid. The United States Department of Justice was forced to offer him $2 million dollars and a public apology.
This is why you should never speak to police or prosecutors without first speaking with your defense attorney -even if you are notified that your prints are an exact match with one found at the crime scene.
Forensic Science Doesn’t Only Benefits Prosecutors
On TV, forensic scientists are pretty much only used by investigators to help uncover the guilty party. In reality, these experts can help a defense lawyer as much as they can help the prosecutor. Forensic experts can retest evidence samples to verify the results, test samples that police overlooked or testify that fingerprinting and handwriting analysis are often inaccurate. In fact, forensic scientists are responsible for exonerating many convicted prisoners through the Innocence Project.
If you’ve been accused of a crime and would like to know more about how forensic evidence may be used in your case, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.