Monday, May 05, 2014

Arson, shaken baby forensics called into question

A couple of recent academic papers related to areas of disputed forensic science deserve readers' attention. Here are links to the papers and the abstracts:
The genesis of this piece comes from a trend the authors have observed in three separate but related areas, which we believe are converging into a perfect storm for fire investigators. These are: 1) the ongoing movement by courts across the nation to scrutinize more closely the reliability of expert testimony, 2) a growing apprehension about wrongful convictions stemming from faulty forensic evidence and problems in fire investigations, culminating in the revolutionary report published by the National Academy of Sciences, and; 3) the continuing development of industry standards that are raising the bar for fire investigators. Part I describes each of these forces, and then Part II demonstrates how together they are creating a mounting pressure on fire investigation experts to defend their qualifications and the reliability of their opinions in court, particularly insofar as analyzing the fire scene and interpreting fire patterns is concerned.
The emergence of "Shaken Baby Syndrome" presents an object lesson in the dangers that lie at the intersection of science and criminal law. As often occurs in the context of scientific knowledge, understandings of SBS have evolved. We now know that the diagnostic triad — the three neurological symptoms once equated with guilt — does not itself prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an infant was abused nor that the last person with the baby was responsible for the baby’s condition. Nevertheless, our legal system has failed to absorb this new consensus. As a result, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more perplexingly, triad-based prosecutions continue even to this day.

This is the CONTENTS and INTRODUCTION to "Flawed Convictions: 'Shaken Baby Syndrome' and the Inertia of Injustice" (Oxford University Press, April 2014). "Flawed Convictions" surveys the scientific, cultural, and legal history of SBS from inception to formal dissolution, exposing extraordinary failings in the criminal justice system’s treatment of what is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. The story of SBS highlights fundamental inadequacies in the legal response to science-dependent prosecution. "Flawed Convictions" proposes a restructuring of the law that confronts the uncertainty of scientific knowledge.
The piece on fire investigations includes an extensive discussion of debates in Texas around arson science. Via CrimProf Blog.

1 comment:

myloridarlin said...

Shaken Baby Syndrome has been debunked.

Somebody needs to start reviewing SBS convictions.

There is one in Mississippi where the penalty is Death, and time is running out.