Junk Science Is Putting Innocent People in Prison

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Chris Fabricant. Photo credit: Akashic Books

The perception of certain types of trial evidence as cutting-edge, foolproof, and reminiscent of Hollywood can inadvertently sway juries into assuming the guilt of countless individuals. Techniques such as bite marks, blood splatter analysis, ballistics evidence, and others appear to present irrefutable indications of involvement in criminal activities. However, concealed within this seemingly conclusive cache of evidence lies a substantial amount of what is known as junk science. This is why Chris Fabricant, the director of strategic litigation at the Innocence Project, wrote his latest book, “Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System.”

In this episode of Scheer Intelligence, Fabricant sits down with host Robert Scheer to shed light on junk science techniques used by prosecutors and law enforcement that, all too frequently, lead to the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals. Fabricant explains how the use of these techniques are often subject to individual and cognitive bias, something that is usually mitigated in other scientific fields.

What ends up happening, Fabricant says, is that forensic experts, “conform to the prosecution theory that was included in the case file. And that still goes on today and that's true with fingerprints, it's true with bite marks, it's true with ballistics evidence, with blood spatter, it's true with shaken baby syndrome, it's true with arson investigations, it's true with hair microscopy. All of these are subjective techniques that rely on human judgment.”

As a result, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases where the individuals investigating them fall to their egos and careers and, “you have no shields of cognitive bias [and] you have a recipe for gross miscarriages of justice,” Fabricant said.



Joshua Scheer