Forensic science and challenges in the justice system

The Innocence Project is a nationwide legal network that works to exonerate innocent prisoners through DNA testing. Last month, the Innocence Project held a symposium at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadephia in an effort to spark a dialogue with chemists and rally them to the cause. 

Fredric W. Whitehurst, a Ph.D. chemist and former supervisory special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, discussed a colleague’s false or misleading forensic testimony in multiple cases. He described how scientists would “run dead flat into a sledgehammer” when their results didn’t agree with their supervisor’s thinking. Whitehurst’s whistle-blowing led to a 1994 Justice Department investigation of the FBI Lab. 

Jose R. Almirall, director of the International Forensics Research Institute says the institutional pressure Whitehurst experienced is not the norm. The forensic scientist who once worked for the Miami-Dade Police Department Crime Laboratory says, “In the 12 years I worked at a police agency, I never felt in any way forced to opine in one way or another.”

This article first appeared in Chemical & Engineering News on Sept. 10, 2012.