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Forensic Identification: The Criminal Trial (From Forensic Identification and Criminal Justice: Forensic Science, Justice and Risk, P 68-104, 2006, Carole McCartney, -- See NCJ-216086)

NCJ Number
Carole McCartney
Date Published
37 pages
This chapter examines the legal and political implications related to using DNA evidence in a court of law, focusing specifically on the United Kingdom and the United States.
The focus of the analysis is on how DNA scientific evidence is utilized in a court of law and the potential “mismatches” between scientific evidence and courtroom requirements and procedures. The author begins with a consideration of the purposes of a criminal trial followed by a discussion of whether forensic science can offer certainty to verdicts, as has been widely assumed. Contextual differences between the scientific laboratory and the courtroom are outlined as the argument is made that the mismatches between scientific evidence and courtroom rules has resulted in miscarriages of justice. Problems with juries understanding scientific evidence are reviewed along with other problems associated with the use of expert testimony in criminal trials. The historical acceptance of fingerprint evidence in a court of law in both the United Kingdom and the United States is analyzed as the author reviews specific cases dealing with the admission of unlawfully obtained fingerprints and cases dealing with specific challenges to the use of fingerprint evidence. Cases in which fingerprint evidence was presented to juries in incorrect manners are also reviewed as the author illustrates the complexities of explaining scientific evidence and the principles of probability to juries. In an effort to clarify the rules governing the use of fingerprint evidence in courtrooms, the United Kingdom’s Fingerprint Evidence Project Board sought to establish protocols and procedures related to the use of expert testimony in courts, which resulted in the 16-point standard that limited the use of fingerprint evidence to those cases where at least 16-points of a fingerprint could be compared. The author argues that the increasing use of scientific evidence in courtrooms has put the criminal justice system on the road toward a quasi-scientific criminal justice process oriented toward truth finding rather than toward the protection of individual rights. Footnotes