A Forensic Scientist's Opinion

The aftermath of the Zain revelations gives a very depressing view of how American justice really works -- or doesn't work -- with respect to righting it's own wrongs.  In Texas, the reaction to Zain was the same as in West Virginia: Stick your head in the sand and maybe it will go away.

Once the prison doors slam, nobody wants to know anything about mistakes that were made or about new exculpatory evidence.  Zain was the darling of the police in Texas and highly sought after because he got convictions.  Given that he never actually ran any of the analyses he claimed and apparently often didn't bother to himself with reading the reports of his assistant, there are God knows how many people sitting in prison for unproven crimes who will never have their cases reviewed.

There will always be potential Fred Zains and they will flourish wherever there are no controls in effect.  We need to concentrate on eliminating the environments that allow them to survive long enough to create widespread problems. 

It is an unpopular view that MOST district attorneys will turn a blind eye to any erroneous convictions for which they are responsible, but anybody who has worked on such a case probably has learned that it is true.  I did not say "some DA's, I said and meant "most."  I also did not say "all."

We often hear lectures telling us that it is the duty of the prosecution to search for justice and truth.  This is a wonderful sentiment but it is largely a fairy tale for true believers.  Ours is a Devil-take-the-loser adversarial system.

Practically the only hope for innocent prisoners lies in aggressive independent action by concerned outsiders, the intervention of the media, and lots and lots of luck.

Part of the problem (only part) lies in the forensic science community where there is a collective reluctance to get in the face of misbehaving colleagues.  There is no better motivator than peer pressure. 

- Dr. Gerald Hurst


 
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