Sunday, November 23, 2008

Healthy skepticism of court "tools" of the trade

A skeptic should be aware of the fallibility of eyewitness identification. This excellent 5-part series discusses 19 case studies and the specific techniques you may be familiar with from CSI and Law & Order that result in erroneous convictions if there isn't adequate corroborating evidence. Hopefully some municipalities will read this and change procedures as a result to prevent more wrongful convictions. It would be nice if the writers of the popular shows would feature these issues prominently...

"Eyewitness testimony is the crack cocaine of the criminal justice system."
Misidentifications have been cited as a key factor in an estimated 75 percent of the 220 wrongful convictions exposed by DNA testing nationwide since 1989

Eyewitness ID: A Primary Cause of Wrongful Convictions - TalkLeft: The Politics Of Crime
police and prosecutors view them as a useful "tool" of law enforcement precisely because they lead to convictions, even if the convictions are sometimes erroneous. Police and prosecutors too often value convictions more than they value the truth.

Most wrongful convictions that are based on eyewitness identifications will never be corrected, because no DNA is available to provide the certain proof that courts seem to want before admitting that a mistake was made.
Speaking of DNA evidence, there's a very technical book examining the state-of-the-art of DNA profiling. I watch a lot of CSI so just might have to pick up a copy of this.

Esp. pp 14-15

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