Science, Standards and ForensicsSep 10, 2012
By Brandon Garrett
After his 28 years in prison, freed by DNA tests, Donald Eugene Gates reflected on the difficulty of adjusting to his new life, telling the Washington Post: "Things are very different now, and I have to get used to it. It's strange. But it feels so good. Man, it feels very good." Twenty-eight years later, the world had changed in so many ways (the Internet, smart phones, social media and, of course, DNA testing). Three more years have passed since he was exonerated in Washington D.C., though, and the same problems with forensics remain.
His case should haunt us. Like I discussed in my last post, not only were scores of innocent people like Gates convicted based on unsound forensic techniques like hair comparisons, as I describe in my Convicting the Innocent book, but other types of forensics lack sound scientific standards. Crime lab after crime lab continues to be shuttered or audited due to lack of standards and oversight. We have no idea how many other innocent men like Gates may have languished in prisons; most old criminal cases do not have evidence that can be DNA tested, and if they once did, the evidence is often lost.
Our entire system of forensics needs to be shored up — and Congress may finally be responding to the crisis. This summer, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced important legislation in the Senate, introduced in the House by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Donna Edwards and Daniel Lipinski, called the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012 (S. 3378 and H.R. 6106). This bill asks that the National Science Foundation (NSF) fund research and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) set out scientific standards for forensics based on the research.
Source: The Huffungton Post