It must be daunting to lawyers – at least to those lawyers who care about being proficient in the courtroom – to confront a case in which forensic discipline testimony is being offered. Most lawyers lack scientific training either from their college educations or once they pass the Bar.
One of the best ways to learn what is at issue in a case with forensic science is the new book FORENSIC SCIENCE REFORM: PROTECTING THE INNOCENT (Elsevier 2017). Edited by Wendy Koen (formerly of the California Innocence Project) and Dr. C. Michael Bowers (a Professor of Dentistry and Deputy Medical Examiner in Los Angeles), the book tracks 11 disciplines – from the rigors of DNA analysis to the highly subjective and questionable field of bite mark ‘analysis’ – and does so by using a study of an actual criminal case that used such evidence followed by a scientific review of the discipline’s strengths and weaknesses.
That this book succeeds is, first, proved by the caliber of contributing authors. One example will suffice – John Lentini, a national expert in fire causation science, authors the materials on arson investigations and where science has its limits and errors may occur.
The second proof of the text’s strengths is in the detailed scientific discussion regarding each discipline, a discussion that is nonetheless comprehensible to the average non-science-trained lawyer.
Although fitting the design of a law school course book, FORENSIC SCIENCE REFORM is just as well suited for the library in a prosecutor’s or defense counsel’s office. It is as useful a guide to the strengths and limitations of common forensic disciplines as any single text available.