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Professor Kaplan Discusses the Reliability of Forensic Science

October 01, 2018

  • Professor Aliza Kaplan
    Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

Lewis & Clark Law School Professor Aliza Kaplan, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC), recently published her research on the validity of forensic science in Albany Law Review, June 8, 2018.

The article, “It’s Not a Match: Why the Law Can’t Let Go of Junk Science,” examines the validity and reliability of forensic science in the criminal justice system and suggests that such evidence needs to be augmented using a collaborative approach.

Kaplan co-authored the article with research partner Janis Puracal, executive director of Forensic Justice Project, and co-founder of the Oregon Innocence Project.

“Numerous types of forensic science are being used every day in convictions, despite the fact that they have been invalidated by scientists in two federal reports,” said Kaplan.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) raised questions about the empirical quality of hair strand, shoe print, and bitemark analyses, as well as other forensic methodologies. A 2016 report conducted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) reviewed whether forensic evidence, such as DNA testing and bite mark analysis, are supported by reproducible research and, thus, sound sources of evidence.

Both studies found that a great deal of forensic evidence is insufficiently tested for validity and reliability, yet courts are still admitting expert testimony in these fields as evidence.  

“It is necessary to educate judges and lawyers about forensic science,” said Kaplan. “It is also important that defense lawyers have the resources to learn about the these invalidated and faulty sciences and how to challenge them in court.”

The law review article notes that the likelihood of change coming from the federal government is low, as the Obama Administration failed to implement any plan for change after the PCAST 2016 Report was published and the Trump Administration announced last April that it would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science. Kaplan and Puracal call for further collaboration between scientists, lawyers, and judges, and propose a specialized role for forensic resource counsel to help facilitate that collaboration.

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