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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'CLUELESS' CRIME LABS

A federal panel of experts looking into the reliability of CSI tests has heard damning evidence against some of the most common techniques used to convict killers, rapists and other criminals, The Post has learned.

The analysis of fingerprints, tire tracks and bite marks isn't nearly as reliable as researchers once believed, crime-scene specialists told the panel. Some even called it junk science.

Many said major changes would be necessary if crime labs want to continue using the evidence.

The National Academy of Sciences report isn't due out until December, but forensic expert Barry Scheck predicted the study could have blockbuster implications.

"The testimony before them was very compelling," the former O.J. Simpson "Dream Team" lawyer said.

"There were some serious questions raised about the reliability of certain disciplines - bite impressions, tire tracks and automatic fingerprint identification.

"I'm assuming they're going to make some big recommendations about how standards are set. A lot of people are anticipating a fairly far-reaching examination of forensic science."

Peter Neufeld, Scheck's partner at the Innocence Project, which works to clear the wrongfully convicted by using DNA evidence, was among dozens of experts who spoke before the panel, a blue-ribbon gathering of 17 evaluators who began their work in 2006.

The $1 million effort to assess forensic work is not final; the academy's report is undergoing a peer review now.

But it's already being viewed as a major potential challenge to the fundamentals of crime-scene investigation.

"If the rules change, it could open a Pandora's box for defense lawyers to challenge what would be considered junk science," said New York attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who helped John "Junior" Gotti beat murder charges. [Mark Godsey]

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