This research article presents forensic sciences’ potential to make the criminal justice process more reliable by reducing both wrongful convictions and unsolved crimes.
In theory, forensic science provides objective, dispassionate evidence in criminal justice proceedings often charged with emotion, cognitive biases, and the failings of human recollection. By being theoretically objective and independent from other actors and processes in the criminal justice process a, forensic science has the potential to make the criminal justice process more reliable by reducing both wrongful convictions and unsolved crimes. But how does it work in practice? Its leading role in many wrongful convictions suggests caution. To better understand the actual role of forensic science, the authors collected data on the prevalence and use of forensic evidence five jurisdictions in multiple stages of the criminal process. The authors also analyzed existing data on crime labs and conducted an experimental survey of prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys to measure the effect of forensic evidence on the plea-bargaining process. The authors’ findings are sobering. While forensic evidence is regularly used in homicide cases, it is (still) being analyzed in only a small fraction of cases in which it is available. In those few cases, its use is highly limited by resource constraints, resulting in long turnaround times for less serious cases. (Publisher abstract provided)