If the Shoe Fits They Might Acquit: The Value of Forensic Science Testimony

48 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2011 Last revised: 17 Jul 2011

Date Written: January 12, 2011


The probative value of forensic science evidence (such as a shoeprint) varies widely depending on how the evidence and hypothesis of interest is characterized. This paper uses a likelihood ratio (LR) approach to identify the probative value of forensic science evidence. It argues that the “evidence” component should be characterized as a “reported match,” and that the hypothesis component should be characterized as “the matching person or object is the source of the crime scene sample.” This characterization of the LR forces examiners to incorporate risks from sample mix-ups and examiner error into their match statistics. But will legal decision makers be sensitive to the extent to which examiners’ statistical testimony accounts for various potential sources of risk and error? A controlled experiment with 315 jury-eligible jurors who received a shoeprint match statistic in a hypothetical burglary case finds that, contrary to normative theory, people are more persuaded by statistical testimony that ignores various error risks than by testimony that is objectively stronger by virtue of taking those risks into account. The experiment also finds that jurors are relatively unresponsive to exposure of those risks by a defense attorney on cross-examination. These results support and extend previous research that finds many people are confused about how to evaluate the risk of error associated with expert forensic testimony.

Keywords: forensic science evidence

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Koehler, Jonathan J., If the Shoe Fits They Might Acquit: The Value of Forensic Science Testimony (January 12, 2011). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 11-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1754763

Jonathan J. Koehler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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