2021 Exploiting Forensic Evidence’s Tenuous Link to Science

Forensic “science” often plays a key role in criminal prosecutions. Because of the “CSI Effect” prosecutors seek out the forensic evidence jurors expect to hear. But how much science is really behind the disciplines that were developed in crime labs and not in university or medical institutions?

To appreciate the limits and weaknesses of forensic evidence we must understand the role of empirical testing and peer review in establishing the scientific validity of a particular method or technique.

In the first part of this course, we will explore the building blocks of the scientific method:
• Empirical testing – what counts as testing and what doesn’t?
• Study design – what works and what doesn’t.
• Data interpretation – what’s cheating and what isn’t.
• Measurement uncertainty – nothing is certain.
• Error rates – if they get it wrong 1 in 20 tries shouldn’t the jury know that?
• Internal validation, proficiency testing and cognitive bias – is your lab doing it right?

In the second part of the course we will use this knowledge to improve your challenges to the admissibility of forensic evidence. Focusing on the admissibility standard in your jurisdiction we will:
• Articulate how foundational validity and validity as applied relate to your admissibility standard.
• Develop strategic motions.
• Develop an approach to use when interviewing an examiner
• Prepare the introduction to a motion
• Learn to respond to common prosecution arguments.
  • Section 1: The Scientific Method and the Role it Plays in Forensics
  • Overview
  • Introduction to Exploiting Forensic Science's Tenuous Link to Science (7 min)
  • Assignment: Introductions
  • Assignment: Admissibility Standard
  • Assignment: Summarize Your Admissibility Standard sample
  • History of Forensic Science (8 min)
  • U.S. v. Tibbs
  • John Oliver on Forensic Science (19 min)
  • Discussion Session
  • Section 2: Designing and Evaluating a Scientific Study
  • The Scientific Method (6 min)
  • Scientific Validity and Reliability v. Experience and Training
  • Identifying and Testing the Hypothesis (5 min))
  • Considerations in designing an experiment or test (11 min)
  • Close Set v. Open set Problems (7 min)
  • Tibbs: The Problem With Closed Set Studies
  • Assignment: Open Set v. Closed Set Study Design
  • Assignment: Designing a Study
  • Section 3: Error Rates
  • The Importance of Error Rates and Black Box Studies
  • Error Rates and Inconclusives (4 mins)
  • Another Discussion of Inconclusives
  • Inconclusive Sample Problem
  • Sensitivity and Specificity (3 mins)
  • A Bit More on Sensitivity and Specificity (5 mins)
  • Confidence Interval-Upper and Lower Bounds
  • Assignment: Error Rates
  • Discussion Session
  • Power Point on calculating FPR and Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Section 4: The AFTE Theory of Identification
  • Firearms Comparison (6 mins)
  • The AFTE Theory of Identification (4 mins)
  • The AFTE Theory of Identification
  • Association of Firearms and Toolmark Examiners (AFTE) and the AFTE Journal
  • Assignment: Read and Evaluate Ames II Study
  • Assignment: AFTE Theory of Identification is Not a Standard
  • Discussion Session
  • Section 5: Internal Validation, Protocols and Cognitive Bias
  • Validity as Applied and Protocols (4 mins)
  • Proficiency Tests (5 mins)
  • Assignment: Proficiency Tests and Error Rates
  • Cognitive Bias (13 mins)
  • Assignment: Foundational Validity v. Validity as Applied
  • Discussion Session
  • Discovery (11 mins)
  • Sample Discovery letter
  • NCFS Recommendations for Pretrial Discovery
  • NCFS Recommendation for Transparency of SOPs etc
  • Interviewing the Examiner (8 mins)
  • Assignment: Examiner Interview Outline
  • Discussion Session
  • Scientific Validity and Legal Reliability (10 mins)
  • Foundational Validity Checklist
  • Legal Admissibility (9 min)
  • Assignment: Admissibility Standard and Foundational Validity
  • Discussion Session
  • Section 8: Writing the Motion
  • Common Government Arguments (10 mins)
  • DOJ's Late Response to PCAST
  • Compelling Pleading part 1 (11 min)
  • Compelling Pleadings Part 2 (25 min)
  • Assignment: Outline of the Motion
  • Discussion Session
  • Certification of Completion of Course - 3 hours
  • Evalutation - Forensics Course
Completion rules
  • All units must be completed