Forensics: Educating the Lawyers
Forthcoming: The Journal of the Legal Profession (University of Alabama), Spring 2019
29 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2019 Last revised: 23 Jan 2019
Date Written: December 18, 2018
The data shows that lawyers and judges are not adequately dealing with an important component of the job, that is, forensic science. They are inadequately educated. The data empirically demonstrates that this inadequate education has resulted in a crisis in the courts. Wrongful convictions have been documented at an alarming rate and a substantial number of those wrongful convictions, including condemnation of innocent people to death, are the result of substandard forensic expert testimony. In addition, controversies regarding civil judgments have continued to proliferate focusing on what is characterized as “junk science” invoked either for the plaintiffs or the defendants – or, sometimes, both.
At the heart of this empirically verifiable crisis in forensic science, including wrongful convictions and unsupported civil judgments, is the fact that the end-users – the lawyers and judges – are under-educated on what should be admissible in court. Law school education, the Juris Doctor (J.D.) curriculum, does not have a sufficient component related to forensic science. As a result, lawyers and judges are not intellectually equipped to litigate and rule on the admissibility of forensic evidence and, where it is admissible, to fashion intelligent rulings regarding the scope of forensic opinions. This requires a paradigm shift in what constitutes a legal education.
This is not to diminish the good work of a minority of judges and lawyers who have actively pursued an education in forensics but it is to state the empirically demonstrated fact that, in the majority of courtrooms, substandard science still appears and can be outcome determinative. These results occur with the participation of the many lawyers and judges who have no significant forensic education but who are, nevertheless, the end-users of forensic services. The education of these end-users should begin in law school. However, there is a lack of structure to the forensic education, if any, that is offered as a part of the J.D. curriculum. The typical evidence class in law school dedicates only a week or two to forensic evidence while spending several weeks on the hearsay rule. Electives in forensics are on the potential class list of many law schools but, even then, there is no regularity as to when they are offered and no structure for a forensic concentration as a part of the J.D. curriculum.
This article recommends that the J.D. curriculum be revised to include more mandatory education relating to forensic evidence. Beyond that, this article recommends that there be concentrations or certificate programs offered in law and forensic science that can be accomplished while obtaining the J.D. degree. Finally, that organizations like the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the Council of Forensic Science Educators, promote and encourage such programs.
Keywords: forensics, forensic science, J.D., law school curriculum, legal education
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