For the last two years, ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” in concert with other news organizations, have looked in-depth at death investigation in America, finding a pervasive lack of national standards that begins in the autopsy room and ends in court.
Expert witnesses routinely sway trial verdicts with testimony about fingerprints, ballistics, hair and fiber analysis and more, but there are no national standards to measure their competency or ensure that what they say is valid. A landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences called this lack of standards one of the most pressing problems facing the criminal justice system.
Over the last two decades, ACFEI has emerged as one of the largest forensic credentialing organizations in the country.
Among its members are top names in science and law, from Henry Lee, the renowned criminalist, to John Douglas, the former FBI profiler and bestselling author. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and frequent TV commentator on high-profile crimes, chairs the group’s executive advisory board.
But ACFEI also has given its stamp of approval to far less celebrated characters. It welcomed Seymour Schlager, whose credentials were mailed to the prison where he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Zoe D. Katz – the name of a house cat enrolled by her owner in 2002 to show how easy it was to become certified by ACFEI — was issued credentials, too. More recently, Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist whose testimony helped to convict two innocent men of murder, has used his ACFEI credential to bolster his status as an expert witness.
Remember as you read this that people are being put to death, or put in prison for decades, because of the testimony of forensic experts.
This post rounds up a lot of past coverage of Hayne and the situation in Mississippi.
Combine bad forensics with the psychology of false confessions and what do you get? A recipe for sending innocent people to prison.