Courts and Forensic Evidence
Courts and Forensic Evidence (Forensic Science)
Any evidence that has been gained through the application of scientific means can be considered forensic evidence. However, not all forensic evidence is considered legitimate; in the United States, federal, state, and military courts have had varied histories in regard to different types of forensic evidence. Many types of forensic techniques have not always been accepted, and the legitimacy of many continues to be debated.
Before evidence gathered through the use of a particular forensic technique can be considered admissible in a court of law, the technique must first be proven reliable. Most often, forensic techniques become accepted through common law, which is the practice of following prior decisions made in court. Any new forensic technique must be vetted by a judge; usually, this means that an attorney presents the technique in court and argues that the evidence produced using the technique should be admitted in a case.
For example, one of the first courts in the United States to accept the use of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence was the Circuit Court in Orange County, Florida. In 1987, Assistant State Attorney Tim Berry successfully argued that the DNA from semen found on a murder victim matched DNA from a blood sample taken from the defendant, Tommy Lee Andrews, and that DNA comparison was a reliable method of establishing identity. To support his argument, Berry presented testimony by David Houseman, a research...
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Admissibility of New Forensic Techniques (Forensic Science)
Before judges will accept evidence produced by new types of techniques, the evidence must first pass several tests. The first of these is the traditional relevance test. To pass this test, evidence must bring some fact to light and must not tend to confuse jurors more often than it enlightens them. Beyond that test, differences exist between the federal admissibility standard and the standard used by many state courts, the Frye standard, established in the case of Frye v. United States in 1923. The Frye standard’s “general acceptance” test requires merely that the techniques used to obtain or produce evidence must be generally accepted by the scientific community.
Federal courts, in contrast, as well as many state courts, now follow a standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993. The so-called Daubert standard has multiple parts: For evidence to be admissible, the technique used to obtain or produce it must be tested and peer-reviewed, the technique’s margin of error must be known and controlled, and the technique must be accepted within a relevant scientific community. The determination of whether these tests have been met is the responsibility of the trial judge. Since the Daubert decision, a great deal of debate has taken place concerning the role of judges as the “gatekeepers”...
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Federal, State, and Military Standards (Forensic Science)
Case law, also known as common law, is not the only source of determination for admissibility of evidence in court. In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed the Rules Enabling Act, which gave the U.S. Supreme Court the power to prescribe rules of practice and procedure and rules of evidence for the federal courts. Following this mandate, in 1965 Chief Justice Earl Warren appointed an advisory committee to write a comprehensive federal code of evidence. Over a ten-year period the committee debated, researched, drafted, heard public commentary, rewrote, and finally issued its code, the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE). This code was debated in both houses of Congress and signed into law on January 2, 1975. The advisory committee was then disbanded and the rules were left unreviewed until 1992, when the Evidence Advisory Committee was re-created to oversee revisions to the FRE. Since that time, the committee has made few substantive changes to the code. The FRE is the codification of decades of precedence, and it is the core of admissibility standards in federal courts.
The FRE applies to all federal courts throughout the United States, but cases tried in state courts are subject to the states’ own individual standards of evidence. For the most part, states have followed the federal standards, but some, such as California, have entirely separate sets of rules. Even in states that follow the federal standards,...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Best, Arthur. Evidence: Examples and Explanations. 6th ed. New York: Aspen, 2007. Uses the Federal Rules of Evidence to organize examples and explanations of types of evidence, relevance requirements, and exclusionary rules.
Genge, N. E. The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation. New York: Ballantine, 2002. Provides examples of court cases in which forensic science was able to provide critical evidence.
Karagiozis, Michael Fitting, and Richard Sgaglio. Forensic Investigation Handbook: An Introduction to the Collection, Preservation, Analysis, and Presentation of Evidence. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 2005. Provides a thorough overview of the forensic investigation process, from the gathering of evidence to its use in the courtroom.
Kiely, Terrence F. Forensic Evidence: Science and the Criminal Law. 2d ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2006. Introductory textbook discusses the acceptance of different types of forensic evidence by U.S. state and federal courts. Presents examples from actual court decisions.
Lissitzyn, Christine Beck. Forensic Evidence in Court: A Case Study Approach. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2008. Uses the case of a 1973 murder that took place in New Haven, Connecticut, to address the various aspects of the admissibility of forensic evidence.
Sapse, Danielle S. Legal Aspects of Forensics....
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