CSI and Science: Crime Labs Across the Country Get It Wrong
CSI, the venerable CBS television franchise, has placed forensic evidence at the forefront of many people's mind in regard to solving criminal cases. There is a belief -- albeit one without any empirical support -- that CSI and its ilk have made it harder for prosecutors in cases to get convictions in cases without forensic evidence.
This ain't no CSI.
What we do have empirical support for, however, is that those crime labs, depicted in television crime dramas as doing careful, pure science, is far from the reality on the ground. Indeed, many crime lab employees aren't scientists at all! What is more, much of the "science" taking place in crime labs has not been "peer reviewed" or otherwise validated, a fundamental precept for something to pass muster as what we call science.
And this is why there seems to continually be problems with state and municipal crime labs. The latest case comes from Massachusetts where a state chemist has been sentenced to three to five years in prison for:
Prosecutors say Ms. Dookhan declared drug samples positive that she had not bothered to test, tampered with evidence, forged signatures and lied about her credentials to enhance her standing in court as an expert witness. In all, her actions may have tainted more than 40,000 drug samples involving thousands of defendants.
The judge, when sentencing Dookhan, said:
"Innocent persons were incarcerated," she said. "Guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core."