Forensic Sciences or Forensic Fraud?

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For over thirty two (32) years I have been practicing intense criminal defense and representing people who have sustain serious and permanent injuries due to someone else’s carelessness or refusal to follow the rules of safety. My practice has been all over the State of Mississippi, especially in the Metro-Jackson area of Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties. I cannot begin to relate the number of times I have been involved in a criminal trial dealing with a pseudo-science expert with a certificate, white coat, and full of his/her own opinion. How many people have lost their freedom, gone to prison, lost a job, or been denied other privileges due to scientific opinion that was really nothing more than a subjective opinion that slanted toward the prosecutor? Well, I hope this type of pseudo-scientific testimony has largely come to an end.

The National Academy of Sciences was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It is a corporation that explores and promotes advancement in the various sciences, including engineering and medicine. What interests us for this blog article is a comprehensive study and report the Academy issued in 2009. This report determined that many of the so called “Forensic Sciences” were nothing more than glorified opinions with almost no basis in scientific opinion. Fingerprints, hair analysis, gunshot characteristics, hand-writing analysis, blood splatters and many others are not true sciences. That is not to say that these areas do not have something to add to criminal investigations, however in the past they have been revered to greatly and permitted to express iron-clad opinions far beyond the ability of the study. As the National Academy of Sciences noted many are nothing more than opinions without any support in the scientific method. Many of these so called “sciences” cannot offer a method that can be independently repeated and will lead to the same result. And it is not very hard to become an expert in many of these fields.

There have been so many innocent people convicted over the years based on these hokey- pokey sciences. Here in Mississippi several men were spending decades in jail based on the opinions of Michael West, an odontologist who claimed to be an expert in over fifteen (15) different specialties. I don’t think you can find a person in the forensic field who claims as much “expertise” as Mr. West. I would venture to say that there is not a field Mr. West touched where he did not consider himself and expert and he was glad to tell the jury! Hopefully Mr. West’s days of participation in sending innocent people to jail are over. Recently I was assisting the Mississippi Innocence Project in a case in South Mississippi. During a deposition of Mr. West he testified under oath that he no longer believed his testimony is scientifically reliable and that it should not be admitted into court. Whew….Lady Justice just breathed a sigh of relief.

We will have to wait and watch for the advances in these so called “forensic science fields.” Perhaps with advances in technology some can crawl back up from where they have fallen. But with all the advances in spy and search technology they may not be needed since the day seems to be coming when we will all be monitored by some company or the government on a twenty four (24) hour a day, seven (7) days a week basis.

Merrida Coxwell is the managing partner of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, a firm focusing its time and energy on criminal defense, serious accident and injury cases and financial fraud. One member, Frank Coxwell handles only consumer bankruptcy, predatory lending, and mortgage servicing fraud. The lawyers have combined legal experience of over seventy seven (77) years. They have handled some of the largest complex criminal and civil cases in Mississippi. Their greatest pleasure comes from helping every day working people are trying to to make ends meet and give their familites a good life.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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