Sorry State of U.S. Forensic Sciences Decried

Patrick Barnes, an eminent radiologist at Stanford University, has pointed to weaknesses in forensic sciences in the United States as a reason innocent persons are accused, and sometimes convicted, of child abuse. He spoke September 6th in Las Vegas at a conference presented by the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center.

Dr. Barnes contrasted the Canadian experience with the American. In Canada, the discovery of wrongful convictions in so-called “shaken baby” cases led in 2007 to the Goudge Inquiry and, through it, to the creation in 2008 of the Centre for Forensic Science and Medicine. The Centre’s mission is “to contribute to the development of a rigorous empirical base for forensic medicine and science.”

The United States also has recently seen a critical study of it forensic sciences. The National Research Council produced its report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, in February 2009. Many persons who testify as forensic scientists, though, rejected the report’s conclusions. Implementation of its recommendations still awaits passage of the Forensic Science and Standards Act, now pending in Congress. Some criminal defense lawyers have concluded the report’s findings will not lead to change in forensic scientific practice in the United States until lawyers use the report to discredit the criticized practices in court.