Validity of forensic analysis routinely used in criminal trials is called into question

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A draft report by a presidential advisory council is raising questions about the scientific validity of many kinds of forensic analysis routinely used in criminal trials, according to a newspaper report.

The draft report says scientific testing is needed to verify the accuracy of forensic evidence, and the rigor of that testing is lacking for many types of evidence, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. The newspaper obtained a copy of the draft report, which is being written by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The lack of scientific rigor “is not just a hypothetical problem but a real and significant weakness in the judicial system,” the report said.

The report suggested more testing is needed to verify bite-mark, footwear, gun and tool-mark evidence, according to the Wall Street Journal. Evidence that did meet standards for reliability included DNA analysis of single-source and simple mixture samples, as well as fingerprint analysis. The report did say, however, that it would be appropriate to inform jurors about false positives found in two studies of fingerprint analysis.

President Obama sought the review last year.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the report. “What they’ve done is turn the accepted reliability of expert witnesses and their evidence on their heads,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “As a result there will be people who are not going to go to jail who should be incarcerated and some who are currently incarcerated will be released. The effect will be a threat to the public safety of American citizens.”

Second paragraph corrected at 3:25 p.m. to state the report is being written.

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