Just what is the impression of forensic science held by members of the general public (our pool of jurors)? If they believe everything they see on TV or in the movies, they are being sadly misled. Our local attorneys believe that, at the very least they have been generally misinformed about the likelihood of finding fingerprints by exposure to the media. Because of this I will be in court in the coming weeks giving testimony on the difficulties of recovering fingerprints from duct tape… Of course the same attorney moments later mentioned how unusual it is to recover fingerprints from guns- Which he felt had good surfaces for recovering fingerprints. (I re-educated him on this point, as guns have generally lousy surfaces, not to mention all the handling involved in firing/recovering/and making safe prior to processing).
It has been my experience that not only do members of the general public have a lack of understanding of forensic science, but that police officers, detectives, prosecutors and judges are often not much better. I think this trend is likely to continue as long as forensics is misrepresented in the media. People tend to refer to personal experience when assessing the value of new information, and when the personal experience with forensic science is “I was watching Law and Order on TV the other night and they…. ” Continue reading
“Wizard’s First Rule: people are stupid…given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”
-Terry Goodkind, Wizard’s First Rule,Tor Books, 1994.
“To a jury about to convict a man of a capital crime, any doubt is reasonable.”
-Commentary on the O.J. Simpson trial.
In recent months I have had two different District court judges, lower two different counts of Home Invasion to either Unlawful entry, or Trespassing. Their reasoning? One said that even though we identified the defendant’s fingerprints on an item in the residence which was handled, but not taken. Even though he had no business being in the residence- because there were other fingerprints which we did not identify (we eliminated a number of prints belonging to the owner and his family) we could not show that the defendant had any intent to commit a larceny, one of the “unidentified” persons could have committed the larceny. Continue reading
By Dean H. Garrison, Jr.
This editorial originally appeared in “The Scene”, the newsletter of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction.
The yellow tape is up. There are cops everywhere, and maybe even some emergency vehicles. Your Lieutenant or Sergeant or Captain called you on the phone. If they were excited and out-of-breath on the phone, you just know they’re new at this. Somebody’s dead–Oh, my God!–and how soon can you get there? It’s an ungodly hour, of course, and you’re half asleep. Or else it’s early, and all your plans for the rest of the day are shot. And, speaking of shot, there’s a dead guy on the floor somewhere, and he’s shot or stabbed or hit with a lamp or a bottle or a pipe, and he or she is dead or dying or enroute to the emergency room or Dead Right There on the lawn or sprawled out on the bed, or he’s the newest face on the barroom floor. In any case, there’s no need to get overly excited and start flying off in all directions. It’s a homicide, for goodness sake! It’s already too late for somebody. Continue reading
by D. H. Garrison, Jr.
Forensic Services Unit
Grand Rapids Police Department
Grand Rapids, Michigan
This Article Originally Appeared in the MAFS Newsletter, October 1991.
Forensic science is the product of an uneasy and unholy mating of Science,
the objective seeker of truth and knowledge, and Forensics, the argumentative
persuader of courtroom advocacy. It is not called Justice Science, Law Science,
or Truth Science, as many of us would like to imagine. We are a bastard child,
an orphan, but still the subject of an intense child custody battle between
our estranged parents, the truth seeker and the advocate. The tug-of-war
goes on daily for our loyalties and confidences, each side offering candy
and warm hugs. These separated parents have visitation rights. Sometimes
they take our brothers and sisters away. Sometimes they don’t come back. Continue reading