Forensic Sciences: Toward a Stronger Scientific Framework

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Hoover (Marriott Wardman Park)
Forensic techniques once considered standard are now being questioned. At issue is the reliance by forensic scientists on subjective interpretation of analytical results. Many forensic tools lack realistic error rates, and there is widespread practice of drawing strong conclusions (often favoring the prosecution) not justified by the forensic evidence. A few years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Crime Lab discontinued the use of comparative bullet lead analysis, acknowledging that the probability of a coincidental match may be non-negligible. More recently, the fundamental assumptions underpinning the practice of “ballistics” were found lacking in scientific rigor. Other forensic practices (e.g., bite marks, microscopic hair analysis) are undergoing intense scrutiny. Eye witness testimony has also been called into question. Humans are not able to reliably identify facial features, and witnesses’ ability to recollect details about a person’s appearance – sometimes years after the fact– is limited. Yet eye witness testimony continues to be powerful, and often contributes to a guilty verdict. Panelists examine the use of probability models to assess the probative value of evidence, review the practice of eye witness testimony, and describe the Europe-wide development of uniform forensic evaluation and reporting principles applicable across forensic disciplines.
Alicia Carriquiry, Iowa State University
Karen Kafadar, University of Virginia
Reliability of Eyewitness Identification as a Forensic Tool
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