Letters: Kudos to the Debunkers
KUDOS TO THE DEBUNKERS
Regarding “Badly Burned,” December: Wrongs need to be corrected. If I were in jail for life for a crime I didn’t commit, I would pray daily for someone to care. I would know that the government is heavily invested in my conviction—so invested it will not revisit my conviction until someone forces its hand. But who will take up my cause? The world at large considers me guilty. I had my day in court. The guilty as well as the innocent never cease claiming innocence. So I die in prison, unless by a miracle someone embraces my cause and gives me back my life.
As a society, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who, through hard work, have debunked the junk arson science. Now let’s review other arson convictions so that those who are behind bars because of this junk science can be freed (or, in some cases, retried). We owe that to the imprisoned.
As a former prosecutor, I applaud the ABA for bringing this matter to its membership’s attention.
David G. Anderson
Albany, New York
Among lawyers, a widespread lack of qualification exists—not as to law, but as to science. To this end, the ABA recently published The Science and Technology Guidebook for Lawyers [co-authored by the writer], which aims to further the understanding of what constitutes good science.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer once wrote that reading a few dozen amicus briefs on a case involving a complex scientific issue served to educate him. One might come to believe one has an understanding after immersion in a case (and some do), but most lawyers don’t have the chops to appreciate the subtleties and sometimes the obvious that may bear on a case’s outcome. The rule on competence generally reads: “Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
Imagine if the situation were reversed: A scientist who knows nothing about law serves as a judge in a matter in which the science applied is understood and without controversy, and the lawyers have to present to this judge, through experts, what the law is; each side is at odds of what law applies and its interpretation. Sounds absurd. Yet we assume the reverse is not true.
The profession should consider meeting the demands of the ever-expanding influence of science in the courtroom through bar-approved areas of lawyer specialization, analogous to Pennsylvania’s capital case qualification; docket assignments, based on a judge’s special science qualifications; the greater use of impartial, court-appointed experts; and expert juries.