2009 May Be Watershed Year for Forensics
Nearly 20 years after DNA testing first revolutionized forensic science, we still have no national standards for many forensic disciplines and techniques that law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries rely on every day.
In the last week alone, two men were cleared by DNA testing — in Florida and Texas — and their cases highlight the need for reliable science in our courtrooms. With a major report expected from the federal government and reforms under consideration in several states, 2009 could be the year that forensic standards become reality.
Early next year, the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a special report on the state of forensic science in the United States. The report, from a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Congress, will outline findings and recommendations for ensuring that the criminal justice system relies on sound science. The Innocence Project is hopeful that the report will call for additional research to validate forensic disciplines, clear standards for using various forensic disciplines in court and nationwide enforcement of those standards.
Among the forensic practices in need of review is the use of search dogs by law enforcement agencies. Last week, Florida prosecutors dropped all charges against William Dillon, a client of the Innocence Project of Florida who served 27 years in prison for a murder he has always said he didn't commit. Dog handler John Preston, who helped agents investigate Dillon and testified at his trial, has since been discredited in several states. Preston’s false testimony also contributed to the wrongful conviction of Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge in the same Florida county.
When the National Academy of Sciences report is released in early 2009, we will be calling on you to help us improve forensics nationwide. Stay tuned.