If you are like me, when you hear “forensic science”, you first think of the TV series CSI. You imagine a team of scientific investigators digging to the bottom of a case, leaving no stone unturned, no evidence un-analyzed, no suspect unconsidered. You think of investigators who have time to devote to a single complicated case, and access to highly precise methods – in short, investigators bringing the right criminal to justice.
If you are like me, then you can empathize with my surprise when I learned that forensic science is a field in a state of flux, as past methods are found to be scientifically inadequate, and crime labs that are overwhelmed and lacking in staff. Perhaps you have heard something about the inadequacy of eye witness testimony, but did you know that even drug test kits frequently give false positives? Nor is this an academic issue, as inadequate evidence can and does lead to wrongful convictions, with the guilty party walking free.
This month we will focus on some of the problems with forensic science as it has been practiced, the very human consequences of these problems, some attempts at reform, and the variety of scientific fields that can contribute to improving the practice of forensic science. CaSP is also working more broadly on bringing awareness to this issue, with a panel on forensic science coming up on October 4, and encouraging collaborations between academics, policy makers, and those in the justice system to solve these issues.