CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Sinha on Forensic Evidence

Maneka Sinha (University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law) has posted Radically Reimagining Forensic Evidence (Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Junk science presented in criminal trials has caused countless wrongful convictions. This has been known since the 1990s, when DNA retesting in closed cases revealed that much of the forensic evidence used to secure convictions was hugely flawed. Such revelations have triggered considerable research and scholarship aimed at improving forensic science methods and preventing the use of unreliable forensic evidence in criminal cases. Despite these efforts, the forensic science system remains insulated from scrutiny and junk science persists in trials.

Against this backdrop, this Article makes two interventions. First, it uncovers dual forces that have led to the development of a forensic science system with deep, structural flaws. The system resists reform because prosecutors act as a collective body to thwart reform efforts. At the same time, the forensic community itself works to manufacture a perception that forensic methods have established scientific validity when, in fact, many have not.

Second, this Article reenvisions the forensic science system, adopting the same calls for structural change that activists and scholars have amplified in the contexts of policing and the criminal system as a whole, and which have taken hold in mainstream dialogue since the latest series of police killings, most notably George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This reframes the conversation about what is needed to meaningfully improve forensic science by anchoring it in the broader, modern movement for criminal justice reform. The Article asserts that modest reform efforts have failed to improve the forensic science system and that a more fulsome reimagining of the system must take place before justice can be achieved. Without radically reimagining the forensic science system and implementing structural change, forensic evidence will continue to be misused, reform efforts will continue to fail, and the number of wrongful convictions will continue to grow.

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