‘Junk science’ finds its way into court

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2020 | Criminal Defense

If you face criminal charges in Pennsylvania, you may be ordered to receive certain psychological or IQ tests. These tests may be used to assess your eligibility for bail before trial, adjust your sentence or evaluate your likelihood to commit another crime. While you may expect that any tests used in court are backed up by solid scientific evidence, some researchers have discovered that this is often not the case. Researchers say that courts are not filtering out unreliable or unscientific testing methods, leaving lives and liberties in the hands of “junk science.”

Many tests viewed as unreliable

Hundreds of different tests are used in civil and criminal courts across the country. While the federal rules of evidence note that tests should be scientifically accepted, expert witnesses may proffer an array of material with little oversight. According to scientists, one-third of the tests entered into evidence in recent cases had never been subjected to peer review in a credible scientific journal. Of the tests that had been reviewed, 40% were considered useful while 25% were considered unreliable. They noted that the tests were subjected to legal challenges over their validity in only 3% of the cases they studied.

Echoes of past dubious evidence

Of course, this is not the first time that doubtful evidence and unscientific techniques have made their way into court under the banner of objective examination. A 2009 National Research Council study found that many forensic science methods frequently relied upon by prosecutors in court were often incorrect and unscientific, leading to wrongful convictions. Some types of arson analysis, blood spatter analysis, bite mark evaluation and even fingerprint and ballistics matching were found to be fundamentally flawed and riddled with bias in favor of prosecutors.

When you go before a criminal court, it’s important to question the allegations put forward by the prosecution. After all, the consequences of a conviction may be severe. A criminal defense attorney might work with you to challenge unscientific or unlawful evidence and aim to prevent a conviction.


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