Tuesday, July 01, 2008

College to develop screening processes for vetting old arson cases for bad forensic science

I've become interested lately in the revolution in forensic science related to arson and the slew of past cases based on flawed scientific analysis where people are still sitting in prison. So I was interested to notice the creation of the Arson Screening Project at John Jay College's Center for Modern Forensic Practice (in NYC), which just received a grant to support their work. From their press release:
This project will utilize the College's forensic science, law enforcement and legal expertise to develop a process for screening arson cases, apply that process to a growing backlog of "bad science" convictions, and disseminate the assessments for analysis to the media, the public and criminal justice agencies.

"This JEHT funded project will enable the College to utilize its expertise in examining cases where questionable forensic techniques were used to obtain an arson conviction," said Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "It is particularly gratifying for John Jay to receive this kind of support since it reaffirms John Jay's position as a leader in criminal justice research."

"This funding will enable the Center for Modern Forensic Practice to collect and evaluate claims of wrongful conviction based on the use of a faulty, folk-science of fire indicators over the past 20 years. And, for the first time, we will expand beyond the Innocence Project tradition to take a systematic look at old convictions where there is no DNA evidence," said James M. Doyle, director of the Center for Modern Forensic Practice.

This project to my knowledge will be the first to systematically focus on bad forensic science in arson cases. One hopes it provides a much needed correction for the lingering problem of old arson convictions based on now-discredited forensics.

See prior related Grits posts:

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