Problems Aplenty With Forensic Science

Last weekend I had the pleasure to participate in a conference sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers entitled, “Whatever Happened to the Science in Forensic Science?”  The conference centered upon the 2009 report by the National Academy of Science (NAS) that confirmed suspected and significant concerns about how the criminal justice system had been using science for decades.   And as if the NAS report wasn’t bleak enough, a number of speakers pointed to looming problems with DNA evidence, heretofore the vaunted “gold standard” for forensic science, and even with medical experts who diagnose child abuse.  In sum, the whole field is starting to resemble a mass of toxic Hungarian red sludge that is oozing over and through the law’s inadequate bulwarks.  (And no, I don’t believe that the answer is the Daubert “reliability” standard, which has proven to be ineffectual in most ways and pernicious in others.) 

 Kudos for organizing the conference go to Amelia Bizzaro (Law ‘03).  The conference drew excellent criminal lawyers and forensic experts from across the country (Boston, New York, Phoenix) as well as locally talented lawyers, such as Jerry Buting and Craig Albee.  Professor Paul Giannelli (Case Western) spoke about the NAS report itself while I discussed its impact on Wisconsin law governing expert evidence.  Paul and I agreed that the NAS report itself could be used to cross-examine forensic experts about deficiencies in their methodologies and theories, an inexpensive yet effective way of putting this information before a jury.

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District Court Keeps Out Social Framework Evidence in Employment Discrimination Case

Scales-red Thanks to Colin Miller over at the Evidence Prof Blog who has an interesting post up today at Feminist Law Professors about an evidence issue near and dear to my heart in a recent employment gender discrimination class action, E.E.O.C. v. Bloomberg L.P., 2010 WL 3466370 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (can’t find a non-pay version, sorry). The case involved allegations by the EEOC that the company had engaged in multiple forms of pregnancy and sex discrimination against 58 female employees.

At issue specifically was whether the court should allow in so-called “social framework evidence.” As Melissa Hart and I described in our recent article, A Matter of Context: Social Framework Evidence in Employment Discrimination Class Actions, 78 FORDHAM L. REV. 37, 39 (2009), such evidence involves using general research results to construct a frame of reference or background context for deciding factual issues crucial to the resolution of a specific case.  More specifically, in employment discrimination cases, we wrote: “Social framework evidence, offered by qualified social scientists, plays a central role in modern employment discrimination litigation. By offering insight into the operation of stereotyping and bias in decision making, social framework experts can help fact finders to assess other evidence more accurately.”

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Seventh Circuit Cleans Up the “Other Bad Acts” Mess (a Little)

I’ve blogged on a number of occasions about the messy state of the law relating to the admissibility of “other bad acts” evidence (e.g., here and here).  Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) indicates that other bad acts may not be used against a criminal defendant to show bad character or a propensity to commit crime.  However, the Rule includes a number of exceptions, and courts have not only tended to interpret those exceptions expansively, but have also recognized an additional exception for evidence that is “inextricably intertwined” with proof of a charged offense.

Given the expansively interpreted exceptions set forth in Rule 404(b) itself, the inextricable intertwinement exception seemed to me an unnecessary and confusing addition to the law.  The Seventh Circuit has now indicated its agreement with that view.  

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