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Archive for the ‘Science and the Law’ Category


Sunday, February 13th, 2011

According to two recent studies, using sophisticated technology might raise juror expectations (The BlackBerry effect) more than watching the popular television show: Crime Show Investigation (CSI), also nicknamed the CSI effect.

Judge Donald Shelton, the chief judge of Washnew County in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wanted to determine whether jurors believed crimes could be solved with extravagant technologies (by well-groomed investigators with an accompanying hip soundtrack) in a magical 60-minute timeframe. The study proved that frequent CSI watchers expected more evidence to be presented, but those expectations didn’t translate into a prerequisite for conviction.

The second study found that the more sophisticated the jurors were in their technology use, the more they expected prosecutors to present scientific evidence, such as DNA, fingerprint and ballistic evidence. Is it that these jurors are more educated or have their BlackBerrys have made them more critical thinkers?

The studies asked these questions:

  1. Do jurors expect prosecutors to present scientific evidence?
  2. Do jurors demand scientific evidence as a condition for a guilty verdict?
  3. Are juror expectations and demands for scientific evidence related to watching law-related television shows?

So, CSI is simply entertaining, and doesn’t affect a juror’s overall expectations of the criminal justice system. Maybe these studies will convince prosecutors to curtail meaningless tests and fancy animation, just to show technology in use?

Learn more about Shelton’s studies on the ABA’s website.

Texas Forensic Science Commission

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

On the heels of a recent uproar over secrecy, suppressed findings and untimely dismissals, Governor Rick Perry’s newly appointed Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission outlines his ideas for the Texas Forensic Science Commission here.  The Blog Grits for Breakfast, reports on a story from Texas Lawyer that the newly appointed chair, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, has the following ideas for the commission going forward:

  • Making investigations secret and meetings about them closed.
  • Re-education of commissioners: “Bradley says that when people act as investigators and judges, they typically should have some background in that work. Most members of the commission don’t do investigative work and need training, he says.”
  • Lengthening terms for commissioners. (No word why the governor couldn’t just reappoint if continuity is so important.)
  • Creating new rules and procedures for the commission (no detail).
  • “Clarifying” whether the commission has authority to investigate the Willingham case. (He seems unwilling to take his former boss Sen. John Whitmire’s word for it.)

Supreme Court Nominees and Science

Monday, May 18th, 2009

President Barack Obama is still weighing his nomination decision for a replacement of Justice David Souter.  Popular Science magazine has critiqued the scientific credentials of some of the prospective nominees to the Supreme Court on its web site.  I guess you’d call it, the nominee’s “lab cred.”  Its interesting to see the take of the scientific community on what usually boils down to debate on politics, and to a lesser degree jurisprudence.

Today’s Youth, Mobile Data Devices, and Criminal Law — Again

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The Washington Post has picked up on the notion that there is an odd convergence of technology, salacious conduct and today’s youth.  In a story out today, the Post writes about this evolving area of criminal law.   On one hand, there is nothing new under the sun.  Prosecutors, law enforcement officers, judges, and defense lawyers will have to sort out messes made by young people making poor decisions.  On the other hand, the speed at which a mistake can magnify in this Digital Age will have some corners very concerned and active in the prosecution of these acts. I’ve previously blogged about this phenomenon here.

DNA Testing and the Crime Lab

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Most observers of the DNA testing progams and crime labs in Texas will note that many of the wrongfully convicted in Texas that are ultimately released from custody  because of re-testing of DNA material come from Dallas County.  (Blog Grits for Breakfast notes that there have been 19 from Dallas and 35 overall.)  Some would argue that Dallas has been more aggressive in its prosecutions than other places, resulting in more wrongfully convicted individuals.  Lawyers in this particular field might tell you that they are lucky because Dallas kept the DNA material for long periods of time, so re-testing is an option in these cases. Observers will also tell you that the Harris County crime lab became infamous during the first part of the decade for its sloppy procedures and poor work.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston, which has seen five DNA exonerees in recent years, will change many of its policies relating to the handling of DNA evidence in an effort to prevent wrongful convictions.  First and foremost?  The prosecutors office will “require prosecutors to test DNA evidence in every case where it is available and relevant to prevent miscarriages of justice,” reports the Houston Chronicle.