Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Our outdated criminal justice system

Civilization has benefited from amazing technological advances in the past century.  Any business that uses 19th century methods in a 21st century world is rapidly replaced by a more modern competitor.  The exception to this rapid progress has been government.  One example is elections where vote counting is still treated as an art not a science.  A second example is criminal justice.   One of the infamous features of the Duke rape case, for example, was the identification of alleged perpetrators by the 'victim' via a seriously flawed photo line-up.  While that case was one-of-a-kind, the use of flawed line-ups is widespread according to University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon Garrett. The AFP reports:
"There have now been thousands of studies with incredibly consistent results all showing that suggestion has this outsized powerful effect on eyewitness memory," Garrett said.

"Even if police are trying their best not to signal anything, the eyewitness -- who may be a victim of a crime and hesitant about participating -- may be looking to the police officer for reassurance and for cues and may perceive things that weren't even intended."

Garrett estimated that hundreds of police departments have begun to change the way they conduct lineups, for instance by having an officer who is not involved in the case supervise, and by informing the witness that the suspect may not be in the lineup at all.

There are many other areas in "forensic science" that are not up to modern standards as Prof. Saks explains:
"I actually divide forensic science into two big camps," said Michael Saks, law professor at Arizona State University. "There is the camp that is using real science that is borrowed from basic science, such as chemistry and DNA.

"On the other hand you have got the kind of -- well, my kindest word for it is almost-science or wannabe science, and that includes handwriting, fingerprints, fire and arson investigation and forensic dentistry."
In the "wannabe science" category, he is referring to many techniques that purport to be science but in reality are little more than subjective guesses. (Take this bite-mark "analysis," for example.) I would like all criminals to be caught and imprisoned. To do that, we owe it to the innocent to bring criminal justice up to modern standards.

PREVIOUSLY on the justice system:
CSI Fail: bite mark analysis
Why is Islam popular in prison?
Obama DoJ: vote fraud helps "increase turnout"
An insider's guide to vote fraud
Holder defends civilian trials for war criminals
Janet Reno and justice by identity group
The Duke rape case: the liberal faculty vs. the conservative faculty
Reporter honor roll: those who didn't fall for the charges against the Duke Lacrosse players

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