Previous posts on this blog have focused on the problem of “junk science.” Shows like CSI and other police procedurals have given the public the impression that forensic science is highly advanced and almost never wrong. Sadly, that’s far from true, but the misconceptions created by these shows are biasing juries to believe forensic science that may not be scientific at all.
One of the most prominent examples is arson investigation. While techniques and evidentiary scrutiny have improved somewhat in recent years, arson investigation has been very flawed for decades. Many innocent people have been convicted of arson and even murder (by arson) for setting fires that were later proven to be accidents. Recently, a man was freed from prison after 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit: setting a fire that killed his girlfriend.
Convicted based on debunked science
One night in 1992, a man awoke to discover his house was on fire. He woke up his girlfriend and tried to get out, but she apparently chose a different escape route at the last moment – a decision that led to hear death. When the case was investigated, however, someone began to dig deeper because they smelled kerosene at the site of fire. The man was accused and convicted of intentionally setting the fire based on evidence of an alleged “pour pattern” discovered on the floor. This type of evidence, which has since been largely debunked, is based on the idea that investigators can see clear patterns of flammable liquid being poured before a fire.
Prosecutors often fight to prevent exonerations of the wrongfully convicted
The man’s release from prison took years of work from wrongful conviction advocates and even fire scientists who have reviewed the evidence and found it to be thin or non-existent. Thankfully, the district attorney’s office that originally convicted the man has since formed a conviction-review unit, which ultimately agreed with the findings of others.
However, this doesn’t always happen for other victims of wrongful conviction. Sadly, many DA’s offices fight hard to keep convicted individuals in prison even after the evidence used to convict them has been debunked. This is, to put it mildly, antithetical to what it means to be a champion of justice.
The right attorney can make a big difference in your case
Some junk science is being challenged and debunked, but there is still much work to do. If you’ve been charged with a serious crime, you need to work with an attorney who has the skills, resources and experience to challenge the evidence and fight aggressively to protect your rights, both at trial and at all levels of appeal.