to the exclusion of all other possible sources.20,21 The determination of uniqueness requires measurements of object attributes, data collected on the population frequency of variation in these attributes, testing of attribute independence, and calculations of the probability that different objects share a common set of observable attributes.22 Importantly, the results of research must be made public so that they can be reviewed, checked by others, criticized, and then revised, and this has not been done for some of the forensic science disciplines.23 As recently as September 2008, the Detroit Police crime laboratory was shut down following a Michigan State Police audit that found a 10 percent error rate in ballistic evidence.24

The forensic science community has had little opportunity to pursue or become proficient in the research that is needed to support what it does. Few sources of funding exist for independent forensic research (see Chapter 2). Most of the studies are commissioned by DOJ and conducted by crime laboratories with little or no participation by the traditional scientific community. In addition, most disciplines in the profession are hindered by a lack of enforceable standards for interpretation of data (see Chapter 7).

Errors and Fraud

In recent years, the integrity of crime laboratories increasingly has been called into question, with some highly publicized cases highlighting the sometimes lax standards of laboratories that have generated questionable or fraudulent evidence and that have lacked quality control measures that would have detected the questionable evidence. In one notorious case, a state-mandated review of analyses conducted by West Virginia State Police laboratory employee Fred Zain revealed that the convictions of more than 100 people were in doubt because Zain had repeatedly falsified evidence in criminal prosecutions. At least 10 men had their convictions overturned as a result.25 Subsequent reviews questioned whether Zain was ever qualified to perform scientific examinations.26

Other scandals, such as one involving the Houston Crime Laboratory


M.J. Saks and J.J. Koehler. 2005. The coming paradigm shift in forensic identification science. Science 309:892-895.


W.J. Bodziak. 1999. Footwear Impression Evidence–Detection, Recovery, and Examination. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


Ibid. See also NRC, 1996, op. cit.


P.C. Giannelli. Wrongful convictions and forensic science: The need to regulate crime labs. 86 N.C. L. REV. 163 (2007).


B. Schmitt and J. Swickard. 2008. Detroit Police lab shut down after probe finds errors. Detroit Free Press on-line. September 25.


In the Matter of an Investigation of the West Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory, Serology Division (WVa 1993) 438 S.E.2d 501(Zaine I); and 445 S.E.2d 165 (Zain II).



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