Health Law Research Spotlight: Sara Gordon - Forensic Evidence Myths

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fingerprint evidence provides police a critical and scientific way to identify criminals. Or so it is thought. But as Prof. Sara Gordon and others have found, fingerprint analysis and other common kinds of forensic evidence can convict the innocent.

Prof. Gordon will be discussing her important work at the 2019 symposium of the University of Denver Law Review, “Driven by Data: Empirical Legal Studies in Civil Litigation and Health Law.” This symposium will explore the most current empirical legal research in jury decision making and health law, and Prof. Gordon will present her research examining the admission of forensic “feature comparison” methods in criminal trials.

Forensic feature comparison methods allow experts to match things like bitemarks or fingerprints to a criminal suspect. While this type of evidence is regularly admitted against defendants, and most people (including jurors) are convinced of its validity and reliability, the scientific community tells us something very different. Many of these forensic methods, including fingerprint analysis, have significantly higher error rates than we have always believed. Other methods, like bitemark analysis, have virtually no scientific validity and should not be admitted by courts.

Prof. Gordon will discuss her work, which focuses on the resistance of legal decisionmakers to believe new information that contradicts or disproves the things they have always assumed to be true.