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Entering the Discourse:

Heavy Reliance on Forensic Science
Crystal Rodriguez
University of TexasEl Paso


Abstract goes here. Do last!


Entering the Discourse:
Heavy Reliance on Forensic Science
As early as the 16
century, forensic science has played an increasing role in
both law enforcement and medical fields. Forensic science has paved the way for
personal use, such as using DNA testing to know your biological background, and for
crime scene investigation. However, as forensic science has progressed throughout
the years, enhancing the use of technology in order to identify someone, the criminal
court system has relied heavily upon forensic evidence in order to solve criminal
cases. It may seem apparent that the use of forensic evidence has improved the
court system by incarcerating identified murders/criminals, however, the use of
forensic evidence has also led to misinterpretation and misidentification of a
suspect, leading the defendant into facing drastic sentences such as the death
penalty. If forensics has led to the wrongful accusationwhich decides the fate of
the suspectshould the criminal court system rely heavily and solely on the
evidence provided by forensic scientists? The answer is no. Because of the presence
of error rates in forensic testing, the criminal court system should not depend
exclusively on forensic evidence; instead, the criminal court system should take into
consideration that some pieces of forensic evidence are not as accurate and reliable,
and should therefore stop deciding someones fate based on only forensic evidence.
As this issue has presented itself, many scholars have offered their position
about the issue, along with a couple of suggestions as well. For example, Kris
Mohandie (2013), author of The Value of Crime Scene and Site Visitation by
Forensic Psychologists and Psychiatrists, believes that forensic evidence gains

accuracy if the forensic scientists goes to the crime scene site themselves rather
than have collected evidence taken to them. Unlike Mohandie (2013), however,
Linda Geddes (2009) in Forensic evidence goes on trial believes that subjective
judgments of collected evidence from a forensic analyst are determining the fates
some suspects arent responsible in facing. Along with Mohandie (2013), yes site
visitation may increase reliability on forensic evidence, nonetheless, I agree with
Geddes (2009) because there is no telling whether a forensic analysts personal
interpretation of the data is biased or not; therefore hindering a mistrial or
improper incarceration of a civilian.
Miscarriages of justice, such as an incorrect identification of the suspect, are
all too common because of heavy forensic science reliability. For example, in 1985 a
man named Steven Barnes was convicted of rape and murder of a 16 year old girl
because forensic evidence showed that the soil on his truck tires matched the ones
at the crime scene, and an imprint on the outside of his truck matched the jean
pattern the victim was wearing the night she was killed. In the year 2009 however,
new test samples showed that Barness DNA did not match the DNA found on the
victims body and clothing and was therefore freed after spending 20 years in jail
(Geddes, 2009, p. 6). Twenty years of Barness life has gone to waste, simply because
of judgments based only on the presented forensic results. Because of mistakes like
these in many cases, people like Barnes (who are wrongly accused) are stripped
away from freedom, happiness, family, jobs, and any other precious moments of life.
Two fragments of evidence the criminal court system relies on are latent
prints and latent print examiners as expert witnesses. Latent prints are

impressions (fingerprints, palm prints, or footprints) left unintentionally on items
such as those found at crime scenes; Latent print examiners compare latents to
exemplars [high quality prints], using their expertise rather than a quantitative
standard to determine if the information content is sufficient to make a decision
(Ulery, 2011, p. 1). In a study conducted by Bradford Ulery (2011), five examiners
three of whom were certified as latent print examinersmade a total of six latent
print errors. These five examiners made false positive errors for an overall false
positive rate of 0.1%. Eighty-five percent of examiners made at least one false
negative error for an overall false negative rate of 7.5% (Ulery, 2011, p. 1). This
study showed that a false negative error happens much more frequently than a false
positive error, which means that a true criminal may be freed and released into
society, all because a forensic scientist made an error and made a false negative DNA
latent print match. Even the slightest of errors a forensic examiner makes can
potentially lead to the liberation of a serial killer (for example) into society,
triggering more crime to the streets, therefore inhabiting citizens, including
children, into a dangerous environment and atmosphere.
As a service to society, the DNA fingerprint and other uncomplicated forensic
applications has given civilians the luxury of knowing what defines an individual
from another through the means of a DNA database of genetic codes. This process is
not a difficult one, for it only requires specific sequence of base pairs that allows us
to unambiguously identify a single individual from the residual DNA found at the
crime scenethe DNA fingerprint (Morris, 2013, p. 1). With the use of the DNA
database, it allows forensic examiners to analyze pieces of DNA found at a crime

scene and compare/contrast the newly found genetic information to previous
stored data, making it extremely useful in finding serial criminals and eliminate the
innocent from being sentenced. In fact, the National Research Council (NRC) came to
the conclusion that DNA was the only forensic method [that] has been rigorously
shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty,
demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual source
(Wilson, 2010, p. 459).
What adds credibility to evidence found by forensic applications, such as
DNA analysis, is when the forensic examiner himself/herself do a site visitation.
According to Mohandie (2013), site visits and crime scene visitation by forensic
psychologists and psychiatrists may enhance the accuracy and credibility of their
forensic work in criminal, civil, and other important contexts (p. 719). This site
visitation technique adds accuracy to forensic results because it allows the examiner
to see first-hand the crime scene and therefore being able to gain much better
perspective on how the crime happened, why it happened, and if there were any
discrepancies (that initial investigators missed) that could maybe hinder collected
evidence. However, a site visitation isnt as reliable as Mohandie (2013) makes it
seem. For example, fire investigators look for evidenceresidues of flammable
liquids at the crime scene. This analyst makes a site visitation and hunt[s] for
evidence and since the evidence comparison is visual it is therefore subjective
(Geddes, 2009, p.7). Site visitation makes forensic evidence and results much more
unreliable instead of reliable because now you have to trust a forensic examiners

point of view, and there is no telling whether an examiner will show bias and
unethical behavior at the crime scene or examination of evidence.
To prove that a certified forensic analyst isnt always necessarily an expert
in the field, a study made by S.L. Avon (2010), was conducted in order to show the
error rates in bite mark analysis. In this study, there were three groups consisting of
dentists with no experience in forensics, dentists with a forensic odontology
interest, and dentists certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology
(ABFO). This study showed that the inexperienced examiners often performed as
well as the board-certified group, and both inexperienced and board-certified
groups performed better than those with an interest in forensic odontology that had
not yet received board certification (Avon, 2010, p. 45). The results in this study
also showed that incorrect suspect attributions (possible false inculpation) were
most common among this intermediate group (Avon, 2010, p.45). In forensic
odontology, acknowledging the wrong dentition of a bite mark makes the critical
error of possibly blaming an innocent individual, so it is outrageous to trust an
expert witness such as an ABFO certified dentist who performs similarly to a
dentist who is completely inexperienced in forensics; therefore, expert forensic
odontologists complete bite mark analysis with undependable results, meaning that
their expert opinion should not be validated.
According to David B. Wilson (2010), in both sexual offenses and homicides,
the presence of DNA evidence increased the probabilities of a prosecution and a
conviction. The problem with this statement, however, is that there are many key
factors that may influence the DNA evidence in both a positive and negative way.

Sure DNA evidence could potentially identify someone, if done properly. But when
not done properly, the negative effects play a major role. For example, did the
forensic analyst make an unbiased site visitation, did the forensic examiner carefully
and thoroughly analyzed the unaltered evidence, and did the forensic scientist base
his investigation solely on what a computer told him/her. Like Geddes said, even
computers make mistakes (2009, p.7). In conclusion, due to the fact that both elite
technology and forensic scientists make errors during examination, it is only
rational to stop relying so heavily upon their presented results, for if we (as a
criminal justice court system) keep depending and be influenced by forensic results,
we incorrectly decide a suspects fatewhether truly innocent or guilty.