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How many 'offenders' in New Jersey are actually innocent?


If you are arrested by police and told that they have forensic evidence linking you to a crime, what would you think? Most people in New Jersey and across the country consider forensic science to be largely accurate. Some people consider it to be infallible, which means that even if there is the slightest amount of forensic evidence that indicates an individual is guilty, they will believe the defendant is guilty. This can be a huge problem if some of those people are sitting on the jury.

The real problem is, however, is that forensic science is far from always accurate. Many scientists are concerned that forensic lab technicians could be sending innocent men and women to jail. Just one of those questionable forensic practices is semen analysis, which often is used to convict men of aggravated sexual assault.

Another heavily used technique in aggravated sexual assault cases is bite-mark analysis. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences ordered a committee to study and evaluate the various forensic analyses that are commonly used to convict individuals. The committee was highly skeptical that bite-mark analysis could ever be used to accurately identify an offender. Though they fared somewhat better, hair, fingerprint, ballistics and handwriting analyses were also heavily doubted.

So, what does this mean for people in New Jersey? There are a number of people convicted in New Jersey on forensic evidence, and not just of aggravated sexual assault. Some of these people will spend the rest of their lives behind bars if a judge will not grant them a new trial based on DNA evidence. That, of course, is supposing that there is DNA evidence available that could clear their names. If the only evidence was non-DNA forensics, these "offenders" may be limited in their options.

Source: Slate, "Forensic Science Isn’t Science," Mark Joseph Stern, June 11, 1014

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