Police Investigations and “Scientific Evidence”
In terms of real scientific evidence, DNA is very reliable because it was validated in with true medical/science accepted procedures. Most “scientific” evidence presented in court is anything but scientific. Recently, DNA evidence was used to conclude a Polish barber named Aaron Kosminski as the notorious Jack the Ripper, a sexual predator who stalked London in the late 1800s and was never caught. While some dispute that the DNA evidence could be pristine after all this time, this reinforces my belief for a number of non- scientific reasons that Kosminski was the real killer of the at least 5 women in London in 1888. Of course, in today’s world a serial killer of 5 female sex workers, would hardly get a mention “above the fold.”
Fingerprint evidence was deemed reliable by many for years, and still is if the fingerprint is pretty pristine and the algorithms of the new automated systems are valid. But final fingerprint matches have a large subjective determination of the examiner attached to them. For example, the government paid lawyer Brandon Mayfield $2million for falsely identifying his fingerprints to the bombing in Madrid in 2004.In 1968, the FBI used fingerprints to catch Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray. That was back when agents had to visually compare fingerprint cards with one another. But even fingerprint evidence has come under fire when prints are deemed matching to the exclusion of all others.
Other forms of scientific evidence, however, are more science fiction than science fact. Such evidence includes:
- Clothing fibers,
- Tool-Mark Identification,
- Foot impressions suggesting more than foot manufacturer,
- Dust or dirt on shoes, and
- Trace metals (supposedly, some investigators say they can determine if someone held a gun by measuring the number of metal molecules on their hands. The new GSR!)
In many of these cases, the scientific validity is disputed, to say the least. Since a criminal defense attorney only must create reasonable doubt, prosecutorial reliance on such evidence can show an overreach that it gives the defense attorney the ability to attack other evidence in addition to the proffered “scientific” evidence .
Traditional investigatory techniques are questionable as well, especially police lineups. Both photo and physical, have come under attack and have resulted in many departments changing at least its photo lineup procedures to a sequential line-up. But if officers tell witnesses to pick a suspect from the lineup, the victim can feel pressured to pick someone, even if the right defendant is not present. And of course, there is always the case of apparent misconduct that makes the news: such as the Portland Police erasing all the facial tattoos of a suspect, and changing his skin color so that the photo reflects the description given my witnesses.
Furthermore, a person’s memory does not degrade slowly over time. People forget most of what they see within forty-eight hours. If the person was under extreme duress at the time, memory is even faultier. And if a gun was involved being pointed at the victim(s), many people look at the gun not the person holding it.