August 01, 2017

Stare Decisis Is Not Scientific: A Cautionary Tale from Two Cases

By Roderick Kennedy

Within a year of Daubert being decided, a prominent evidence scholar pointed out that in criminal cases, “[c]ourts never required some of the most venerable branches of forensic science—such as fingerprinting, ballistics, and handwriting—to demonstrate their ability to make unique identifications.”1 Little changed in the intervening 22 years. Last fall, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) reviewed the state of pattern-matching forensic science in the United States, and concluded that it still presented two critical gaps to be addressed before its validity could be ensured in the nation’s legal system: (1) the need for clarity about the scientific standards for the validity and reliability of forensic methods, and (2) the need to evaluate specific forensic methods to determine whether they have been scientifically established to be valid and reliable.2

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