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When Evidence Is Not Fool-Proof

Eyewitness testimony, fingerprints, and ballistics test results all enjoy a popular reputation for being evidence that is unassailable. All three of these forms of evidence, however, have their weaknesses.

  • Eyewitness testimony. Although it seems counterintuitive, eyewitness testimony is actually very flimsy. Most eyewitnesses end up testifying from memory to events that they saw while not fully paying attention, under while stress. It is no wonder that according to the Innocence Project “eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.”
  • Fingerprints. Almost since its beginning, the science of fingerprint evidence has enjoyed a relatively unquestioned status as the pinnacle of physical proof. In recent years, however, criminal justice scholars and forensic experts are calling attention to the fact that fingerprints are potentially not as unique as we all believe. There is more work to be done to quantify the probability of finding a consistent set of fingerprints, statistics that already exist for other types of scientific evidence.
  • Ballistics testing. Ballistic testers who claim to be able to match a fired shell with the weapon it came from suffer from the same problems that plague fingerprint evidence. The National Academy of Sciences itself, in a 2009 report, noted that ballistic evidence is sometimes “introduced in criminal trials without any meaningful scientific validation, determination of error rates, or reliability testing to explain the limits of the discipline.”

Most of us just assume that the forms of evidence shown on CSI, when introduced at a trial, are fool-proof. That is certainly not the case. If you are facing criminal charges, hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is not afraid to challenge the government’s evidence and will leave no stone unturned to raise reasonable doubt.

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