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Some criminal cases rely on junk science

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Some evidence of criminal activity is relatively straightforward. There are messages between people confirming their plan to break the law. In some cases, there might be security camera footage of a particular criminal incident.

Other times, police officers and prosecutors have to hunt for evidence that connects someone to a particular criminal matter. Occasionally, in their eagerness to bring charges against someone, authorities sometimes turn to junk science. The defendant and their attorney may then need to plan a specific defense strategy to address the poorly-constructed case that the state is presenting.

What is junk science?

Junk science is a way of collecting or analyzing evidence that doesn’t have peer-reviewed research to validate it. For example, over 100 years ago, criminal justice professionals, including some forensic medical specialists, believed in phrenology. They believed that the size and shape of someone’s skull indicated what kind of person they might be. Junk science may sound convincing when presented by someone with charisma, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny and may not produce verifiable, accurate results.

What junk science could reach the courtroom?

Prosecutors, judges and potentially even jurors might believe that junk science evidence is useful. Thanks to years of forensic television shows, people now put faith in questionable science, like blood spatter analysis. However, very little research corroborates the usefulness of such analysis.

Similarly, sometimes prosecutors bring in specialists to perform a 911-call analysis. While there are certain trends in how people respond to an emergency, each person has their own unique history and personality, making it impossible to gauge their involvement in a crime on the subtext of a single phone call. Even lie detector tests no longer provide conclusive evidence in a criminal trial because the ability of the test to yield both false positive and false negative results is well documented.

Expert witnesses can help

When the state has a case that largely relies on questionable science, bringing in outside professionals can make all the difference for a defendant. Expert witnesses can raise questions about junk science, present their own analysis of the state’s case and provide insight into the prevailing understanding in that field of science. One or more expert witnesses can raise real questions about certain evidence allegedly connecting someone to a crime and might help establish the reasonable doubt that someone needs to have to avoid a conviction.

Understanding what evidence the state has can be invaluable to someone hoping to fight back against pending criminal charges. Seeking legal guidance is generally the best way to get started in this regard.