The overstatement of forensic results by experts in court

The negative impacts of using forensic results in criminal cases and how they can be abused which has led to a number of wrongfully convicted individuals to be exonerated.

Example of tools that may be used to gather forensic evidence at a crime scene.

Example of tools that may be used to gather forensic evidence at a crime scene.

Skyler DiLoreto, Staff Writer

Last year more than 150 Americans were exonerated from prisons. According to a recent report by a registry that follows wrongful convictions, put together, these individuals spent more than 1,600 years in prison. The National Registry of Exonerations states that the most common cause of conviction of innocents tends to be official misconduct; about one third of the previously mentioned court cases involved a Chicago police corruption scheme in which drugs would planted as a way to frame individuals.

Another common cause of conviction of innocents is the overstatement or use of misleading forensic evidence though this tends to be less well known. Experts commonly called into court in fields such as bite marks, hair analysis and DNA analysis may reinforce unscientific assertions through the use of exaggerated statistics. According to professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC- Irvine Simon Cole, an expert can “say whatever they want.” This can often lead to invented statistics such as “one in a million.” A different an expert meets the qualifications required of a courtroom there are few limitations on what they can say. Professor at Michigan State University College of Law, Barbara O’Brien, believes that much of the problem with forensic testimony is that “the diagnosticity is overstated,” giving the example of a of a hair sample resembling a suspect’s hair getting “dressed up with this scientific certainty that isn’t justified.”

One example of this is the case of Glenn Payne who was exonerated in 2018; in 1990 at age 28 he was charged with sexually abusing his 2-year-old neighbor. While being arrested Payne was asked to disrobe; a hair was left on a sheet of butcher paper and investigators also discovered a second hair on a tablecloth draped over the girl. Though the FBI has reported that microscopic hair comparison that claimed to produce a “match” between two hairs was scientifically invalid four years before Payne was charged; a lab analyst testified in the case that the hair had a “1 in 129,600” chance of anything other than a random occurrence. In 2017 after being reached out to by lawyers the analyst acknowledged that the statistical evidence was invalid. Additionally a new medical report suggested that the little girl was not abused but actually had a strep infection.