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Forensic Science: Grand Goals, Tragic Flaws, and Judicial Gatekeeping
Judges' Journal (2005)
  • Jane Campbell Moriarty, Duquesne University School of Law
In the last decade, a number of scientists have published articles and testified in court, explaining the ways in which they believe that some of the forensic sciences do not meet reliability standards and that laboratories make errors. The explosion of exonerations resulting from DNA technology has raised questions about the accuracy of many forensic sciences and the quality of some laboratory testing. A substantial number of these defendants can point to erroneous forensic science as a contributing cause of their wrongful convictions. In the courts, increasingly, the parties have substantial and serious disagreements about the quality of forensic science. The adoption of the reliability standard for expert evidence in federal courts and many state courts has created a daunting task for trial judges who must grapple with any number of complex, scientific, and technical forms of evidence. Judge Kozinski first recognized the enormity of the effort in the remanded Daubert decision, summarizing the new mandate and remarking, "We take a deep breath and proceed with this heady task." Because the Supreme Court, many state courts, and the Federal Rules of Evidence have extended proof of reliability to all forms of expert testimony, courts must grapple with questions concerning forensic expert evidence that is a part of many criminal prosecutions. Make no mistake--this is a challenging task, and many judges wrestle with the proper application of reliability standards to this type of evidence. This article provides some assistance to the judges dealing with the complexities of forensic science expert testimony. We offer three kinds of guidance concerning the proper role of forensic science. The first part of the article provides an exposition of the types and uses of forensic science frequently proffered. The second part addresses the notable questions, problems, and concerns about forensic science. The article closes with suggestions for approaches that may assist courts when confronting these questions and concerns.
  • forensic science
Publication Date
Fall 2005
Citation Information
Jane Campbell Moriarty, Forensic Science: Grand Goals, Tragic Flaws, and Judicial Gatekeeping, 44 no.4 Judges' Journal 16 (2005).