Whether it is DWI expert witnesses, DNA experts, or analytical chemists, the concerns for truth in science are the same….
The American Criminal Justice System: “Houston, We have a Problem.”
Mark Fuhrman, convicted of a felony perjury after the O.J. Simpson trial, is now a national Fox legal analyst, an “expert witness” on police matters. Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled “Dr.” James Ferguson, a state toxicologist, convicted of perjury, could NOT be sued or found liable for lying in a murder case where his expert witness testimony was relied upon by the judge for the conviction. Fred Zain, toxicologist at the West Virginia Department of Public Safety, falsified lab results which resulted in as many as 134 wrongful convictions. Once under investigation, he merely picked up and moved to San Antonio, Texas to work as a toxicologist where an investigation found at least 180 cases in which fraud may have led to wrongful convictions. He died in the comforts of his Florida home in 2002. Picking up the pieces in Boston, Massachusetts, over 34,000 lab results are now in question after state toxicologist Annie Dookhan pled guilty to crimes related to falsifying results. These cases are just the recent ones. They are only the tip of the iceberg. If an athlete is caught cheating in the Olympics, he or she is stripped of their medal and the opportunity to compete. In the criminal courts of America, if a police officer or expert witness is lying to obtain a conviction, they get promoted and receive raises. If their lies are caught, the Courts protect them. The 6th Circuit Court rationalized, “Dr. Ferguson deserves absolute immunity in the case because all testimony, even if perjured, is protected to ensure witnesses will be candid without fearing lawsuit.”
Mind you, this absolute immunity protection ONLY applies to government witnesses. It‘s the same type of logic as preventing poisoned customers from suing a chef because this would stifle the chef’s creativity in the kitchen. How many chefs would poison patrons? An illegal and unlikely scenario as restaurants would shut down and there would be health code compliance complaints. These safeguards do not play out in the criminal justice system. Quite the opposite: convictions win elections, including in the appellate arena, and look great in the media while those successful earn job promotions.
As for a forensic regulatory body, NONE with any regulatory powers over the criminal justice system exist, although the first National Commission on Forensic Science has just been created. What is currently in place is a scandal ridden “pay as you go” certifying agency environment where groups like the American Crime Lab Directors (under major fire and litigation) can issue board certifications and certificates for a fee despite not adhering to scientific peer review recommendations; e.g. blind audits, true proficiency tests.