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Good Science vs. Bad Science: Long-Awaited Forensic Reform

This past week, a crime lab in Ohio’s Canton-Stark County was fired for the second time in a year. Criminalist Michael Short was first fired in May 2012 for failing to note key evidence in a case. He was reinstated six months later by the investigating commission. Last week, Short was fired again for giving false testimony during a murder trial regarding key work that was never actually completed. Further investigation of his work has been ongoing, and Short is now accused of filing 147 false reports, failing to enter ballistics (gunshot) information into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, and failing to adhere to the crime lab’s basic procedures and standards for work.

Robert Tscholl, the Ohio attorney representing Short, is quoted saying: “The crime lab is in utter disarray. The police department that is managing it has no idea what they’re doing.”

This is not the first instance where forensic errors and bad practices have made the news. Crime lab scandals in Boston, San Francisco and Houston have caught national attention as analysts and criminalists falsified tests, falsely testified to work not completed, and stolen samples of drugs to be tested. In the past few decades, DNA cases have come under scrutiny, and people have been released from prison as a result of badly performed tests. These unfortunate incidents, the changing field of criminal forensics and the legal field have warranted reform for quite awhile.

Proposed reforms have been discussed before by legislators. But this past February, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) teamed up to create a national oversight board to finally make these reforms. The “National Forensic Science Commission” was created to reform the entire field of forensics, and impose more strict sets of rules for crime labs to follow. Ultimately, its goal is to make sure that only evidence meeting these strict standards can be used in court. Bad science and results have led to wrongful convictions too many times (especially with DNA evidence). Lawmakers have finally realized that when individual freedoms are at stake, we need to hold this important evidence to the highest standard. This is why it is important to have a DUI attorney who understands these complex and changing legal forensics issues, and is able to identify areas where they may apply to your case.

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