‘Shifted Science’ Revisited: Percolation Delays and the Persistence of Wrongful Convictions Based on Outdated Science

36 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2016 Last revised: 8 Jun 2016

Caitlin M. Plummer


Imran J. Syed

Michigan Innocence Clinic

Date Written: January 27, 2016


We previously wrote about the phenomenon of convictions based on science that is credible at the time of trial, but later comes to be repudiated. Such post-conviction shifts in science were most obvious and reprehensible in the very old cases, the example being a 1986 arson prosecution, whose scientific underpinnings are exposed in a post-conviction motion filed in 2011. Immediately upon completing that article, we came to realize that it told only half the story. We seek in this article to build on that foundational idea of “shifted science” by discussing at length a harder question: the perception, percolation and continued evolution of shifts in science. We address here cases that arise on the cusp of a shift, identify the process of the shift in various forensic science disciplines and analyze how difficult it can be to perceive and address a shift in science, even when it occurs concurrently with, or even some time prior to, trial. Taking a step-by-step, route through the process of significant shifts in several different forensic disciplines, we hope to clarify the many stages involved in these shifts and the important consequences of misperceiving shifts in science as they occur. Finally, we also lay a foundation for a later piece addressing the difficult question of legal avenues for relief in shifted science cases that arise on the cusp of a revolution, such as those we address here.

Keywords: Wrongful convictions, post-conviction relief, science, science and law, shifted science, arson, shaken baby syndrome, comparative bullet lead analysis, CBLA, SBS, canine accelerant alerts

Suggested Citation

Plummer, Caitlin M. and Syed, Imran J., ‘Shifted Science’ Revisited: Percolation Delays and the Persistence of Wrongful Convictions Based on Outdated Science (January 27, 2016). Cleveland State Law Review, Vol. 64, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2723649

Caitlin M. Plummer


No Address Available

Imran J. Syed (Contact Author)

Michigan Innocence Clinic ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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