Forensic science is neither: discuss

Okay, it is forensic, but most of it sure doesn’t seem to be science.  Certainly not in the NC State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) Lab.

The N&O has run a fantastic series over the past week about the shameful and endemic problems at the SBI lab.  The blood spatter “expert” was basically making stuff up as he went and convicting some presumably innocent people as he went along.  The ballistics “expert” meanwhile has been drawing seemingly completely false conclusions, but testifying about them with “absolute certainty.”  The evidence is quite clear that the SBI has come to see itself as little more than a tool of the prosecution with far more interest in convictions than actual justice.  There’s plenty of evidence of “experts” changing their results and fudging their testimony to give the prosecution exactly what they want.

And damn, there’s all these naive conservatives out there who somehow manage to believe everybody arrested and in jail most surely be guilty.  I sure wish it were that way, but the more one looks, the more one sees evidence for both incompetence and plain old malfeasance systematically putting innocent people in jail.  Here’s a nice post by Yglesias about how police department routinely ignore best practices for line-ups.

Thanks to this N&O series and aggressive coverage of the false conviction of Greg Taylor by horribly shoddy SBI work and testimony (seriously, some of those SBI guys should be in jail), I’m confident that there’s going to be real changes and improvement at the SBI.  This story thus also shows why good state/local newspapers are so important.  The N&O surely lost a lot of money covering this story compared to assigning the reporters to whatever salacious story of the day that didn’t require any actual reporting.   Nothing keeps the government accountable like solid watchdog journalism.  As fewer people subscribe to papers, fewer papers can afford to undertake this form of essential journalism.  So..  keep innocent people out of jail– subscribe to your local newspaper rather than just reading it on-line.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Forensic science is neither: discuss

  1. John says:

    If these type of outcomes are frequent and endemic to SBI 1 need look no further than their incentive system, whether it be de facto pressure from the bosses with little oversight, or in policy which rewards investigators with rank & bonuses for convictions, to find the real culprit.

    • Steve Greene says:

      I’m pretty sure there’s no (policy) reward for convictions, but the SBI are sworn law enforcement officers rather than an independent lab. Like many law enforcement officers, they seem to be more interested in convictions than in justice. Not entirely sure how you get around that problem which is endemic to our entire criminal justice system.

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