Gibbs at Love Canal, N.Y.,
holding her daughter. Love Canal was evacuated in 1978 due to toxic contamination.
Scientific battles over toxic sites helped introduce science to the courtroom.
fought the law and the law won
Crime labs handle a huge variety of evidence -- fibers, blood, computer data, fingerprints, maggots, even O.J. Simpson's bloody glove. The introduction of scientific evidence to trials over the past century represented a major advance over eyewitness identification and other fallible techniques.
Crime labs and forensic scientists seemed miracle workers who could solve crimes with no witnesses and flimsy evidence.
But forensic scientists have roots in policing as much as mainstream science, and they respond to unique motives. While academic scientists seek credit for discoveries and industrial scientists try to usher products to market, forensic scientists are sometimes judged by convictions won.
One reporter wrote that the decision would send judges "frantically playing catch-up on the basics of the scientific method."
Daubert continues to rock the legal system, says David Faigman, professor of law at the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. After complicated legal battles over second-hand smoke, breast implants, toxic chemical hazards, and DNA fingerprinting, he says, "Courts have become more sophisticated in understanding how science is done. They are starting to ask other fields, especially forensic science, 'Do you have data?' The answer is surprising to courts, it's 'no.'"
Some hallowed techniques, including hair analysis (which helped falsely convict Jeffrey Pierce) are failing the Daubert standard. In the Timothy McVeigh trial, Faigman notes, the prosecution withdrew handwriting testimony after the judge limited its scope.
More is in store, Faigman says. "If courts were to apply Daubert in good faith, they would be forced to exclude a lot of forensic evidence."
Isn't fingerprint analysis science?
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