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Unpublished Paper
From a Plane Crash to the Conviction of an Innocent Person: A call on lawmakers to establish that forensic evidence is inadmissible unless forensic equipment is developed as a safety-critical system
ExpressO (2008)
  • Dr. Boaz Sangero
  • Dr. Mordechai Halpert
Abstract
According to existing law, a criminal conviction may be based on a single piece of scientific (forensic) evidence. Thus, for example, a DNA match could, on its own, lead to a conviction and a prolonged term of imprisonment, or even a death sentence. A testing error might result in the conviction of an innocent person. Therefore, the state has a duty to ensure that such evidence is as reliable as possible. This article protests an inconceivable situation: that the development of forensic equipment, which is designed to produce evidence that can be relied on in a criminal trial, is not monitored and regulated by the state – and such equipment is not developed as carefully as it should be. This is in sharp contrast to the development of safety-critical systems, such as medical devices, which is monitored by the authorities and must withstand strict standards of quality assurance. The basic principle in developing safety-critical systems is that it is impossible to guarantee their safety by only testing their final performance as a “black box” – instead, safety must be built in to the entire life cycle of the device. For this purpose, the government has established authorities, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose role is to ensure that safety-critical medical devices are developed carefully, according to accepted principles of safety engineering. These principles are set forth in regulations. However, this is not the case with forensic equipment. Regulations dealing with the quality assurance of forensic devices do not relate to their development, but only to the process whereby evidence is produced using them. Thus, for example, there is no requirement for the manufacturer of a breathalyzer – used to detect drunken driving – to develop the device with proper caution, according to standards of quality assurance. This device is only evaluated based on its final performance, as a “black box,” contrary to accepted principles of safety engineering, which could lead to errors. We show why devices used to produce forensic evidence for a criminal trial should be treated like safety-critical systems. We call on lawmakers to regulate the monitoring of the development of forensic equipment just as this has been done for other safety-critical systems. We also call on lawmakers to enact legislation establishing the inadmissibility of forensic evidence – at least in a criminal trial – unless the device producing it has been developed carefully, as a safety-critical system.
Disciplines
Publication Date
2008
Citation Information
Dr. Boaz Sangero and Dr. Mordechai Halpert. "From a Plane Crash to the Conviction of an Innocent Person: A call on lawmakers to establish that forensic evidence is inadmissible unless forensic equipment is developed as a safety-critical system" ExpressO (2008)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/dr_boaz_sangero/1/