Forensiphilia: Is the Public Fascination with Forensic Science a Love Affair or a Fatal Attraction?
Jessica D. Gabel
Georgia State University - College of Law
New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement, Forthcoming
Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-08
In February of 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released its much anticipated diagnosis and prescription for what ails the forensic science community. The Report confirmed the low but steady noise that had been building in the criminal justice system for at least a decade: that, with the exception of DNA evidence, much of what is presented as forensic science is not really science at all. Instead, a large segment of the high-tech pageantry seen on television and now expected and employed in court would fail to clear even the lowest hurdles of stringent scientific inquiry. Nonetheless, forensic evidence is often used to demonstrate the certainty of a person’s guilt by authoritatively “matching” evidence from the crime scene or victim to the suspect. The Report sounded the alarm as to the needs of the forensic science community, raised critical concerns, and even suggested a remedy by calling for the creation of an independent agency to regulate the field of forensic science. Moreover, it came at a time of “forensiphilia” – where forensic science is itself a celebrity that captivates and enchants audiences. One year after the Report caused ripples throughout scientific and legal circles, it seems as though, in some ways, the shock has passed, numbness has set in, and progress is idle. This article will examine the evolution of forensic science on television and in the courtroom. It will evaluate whether DNA is the reliable anomaly among the forensic science disciplines. Finally, along a similar vein to the Report’s resolution to strengthen forensic science, this article will call for a strengthening in legal education aimed at fostering both an understanding of the advances in science and a skepticism towards methods that inherently lack a solid foundation in science.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 40
Keywords: DNA, evidence, criminal justice, criminal law, law and science, forensic science, forensics, legal education
JEL Classification: K00, K14, K40, K49
Date posted: March 30, 2010 ; Last revised: April 7, 2010
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