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Forensic Testimony Archaeology: Analysis of Exoneration Cases and its Implications for Forensic Science Testimony and Communications

NCJ Number
John Morgan
Date Published
February 2023
163 pages

This document reports the results of a study to examine case factors associated with 732 wrongful convictions classified by the National Registry of Exonerations as being associated with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence.


The author of this report discusses a research study into wrongful convictions that were classified by the National Registry for Exonerations as being associated with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence; the document also discusses the development of a forensic error typology aimed at providing a structure for the categorization and coding of factors relating to misstatements in forensic science reports, errors in individualization or classification, testimony errors, issues relating to trials and officers of the court, and evidence handling and reporting issues. The typology was designed to distinguish between errors committed by forensic practitioners as part of the examination process, and system errors associated with the communication and use of forensic findings. Study results demonstrated that most errors related to forensic evidence were not identification or classification errors made by forensic scientists, instead, the errors were frequently associated with incompetent or fraudulent examiners, disciplines with an inadequate scientific foundation, or organizational deficiencies in training, management, or resources. The authors suggests that actors within the broader criminal justice system, but not under the purview of any forensic science organization, may contribute to errors that are deemed related to forensic science; and that system issues include reliance on presumptive tests without confirmation by a forensic laboratory, use of independent experts outside the administrative control of public laboratories, inadequate defense, and suppression or misrepresentation of forensic evidence by investigators or prosecutors.