Black Robes, White Coats

Black Robes, White Coats: The Puzzle of Judicial Policymaking and Scientific Evidence

Rebecca C. Harris
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj4mf
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  • Book Info
    Black Robes, White Coats
    Book Description:

    Scientific evidence is commonplace in today's criminal trials. From hair and handwriting analysis to ink and DNA fingerprints, scientists have brought their world to bear on the justice system.

    Combining political analysis, scientific reasoning, and an in-depth study of specific state supreme court cases, Black Robes, White Coats is an interdisciplinary examination of the tradition of "gatekeeping," the practice of deciding the admissibility of novel scientific evidence. Rebecca Harris systematically examines judicial policymaking in three areas forensic DNA, polygraphs, and psychological syndrome evidence to answer the question: Why is scientific evidence treated differently among various jurisdictions? These decisions have important implications for evaluating our judicial system and its ability to accurately develop scientific policy.

    While the interaction of these professions occurs because the white coats often develop and ascertain knowledge deemed very useful to the black robes, Harris concludes that the black robes are well positioned to render appropriate rulings and determine the acceptability of harnessing a particular science for legal purposes.

    First book systematically to gather and analyze judicial decisions on scientific admissibility

    Analyzes several key cases including Arizona v. Bible and Kansas v. Marks

    Includes examples of evidence in three appendices: forensic DNA, polygraph evidence, and syndrome evidence

    Presents an original model of the gatekeeping process

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4564-6
    Subjects: Law, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is about a particular interaction between two very different creatures: judges and scientists. These professions outfit themselves in special attire symbolizing the nature of their work. Judges are in the business of processing defendants, using wisdom and legal expertise. The black robe of the judge represents the neutrality and authority requisite for this particular public service. By contrast, scientists are in the business of developing and harnessing the knowledge of how the world works. The white coat of the scientist symbolizes precision and clinical sterility. The precision and clinical sterility of the scientific reputation provides legitimacy to the...

  5. CHAPTER 1 THE MYSTERY OF THE GATEKEEPERS
    (pp. 7-13)

    Imagine for a minute that you are observing an ancient society where people live in walled cities and public servants are employed to police the gates. By implicit agreement, these public servants would be charged with orders to allow only certain kinds of strangers into the city—presumably strangers on beneficial business. From your observation point you notice that, indeed, some strangers are being turned away while others are permitted to enter. As you watch various kinds of people approaching the gate, you begin to make a game of it, attempting to guess which strangers will be successful. As you...

  6. CHAPTER 2 CLUES TO JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR
    (pp. 14-35)

    The puzzle of state supreme court variance in gatekeeping policy necessitates the search for clues to judicial behavior. When courts from different states are reaching different conclusions about the admissibility of the same science, it is natural to ask for an explanation. State gatekeeping policy is important because of the political implications of admitting or denying scientific evidence in judicial proceedings. For this reason, the analysis centers onpoliticalexplanations of judicial behavior. In fact, a key argument of this book is that judicial gatekeeping is a function of political variables—not scientific variables. Political scientists specialize in recognizing and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 FORENSIC DNA: LAW ENFORCEMENT IN THE LABORATORY
    (pp. 36-67)

    As a very importantway of knowing, forensic DNA evidence presents the first gatekeeping mystery for exploration. The DNA controversy officially began in 1989 with the first American appellate case. The first high court to render a decision on the admissibility of DNA evidence was the Supreme Court of Virginia. InSpencer v. Commonwealth, 384 SE 2d. 785 (1989), the defendant, Mr. Spencer, appealed a capital murder and rape conviction on the grounds that DNA evidence should not have been admitted at trial “because the commonwealth failed to establish its reliability and its general acceptance in the scientific community” (797)....

  8. CHAPTER 4 LIE DETECTION: VICTIM OF LAW AND POLITICS
    (pp. 68-104)

    The judicial debate over lie detectors, or polygraphs, has been very long and involved. The original U.S. Supreme Court decision on the admissibility of scientific evidence,Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), was an early polygraph case. In that case the Court announced the “general acceptance” test for scientific evidence. It also held that the polygraph examination had not yet attained “general acceptance in the relevant scientific community.” Since that time, 163 state supreme court cases have revisited the scientific reliability and validity of polygraph evidence. Twenty-nine decisions rule polygraph evidence admissible, while the remainder rejected polygraph evidence...

  9. CHAPTER 5 SYNDROME EVIDENCE: SCIENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING
    (pp. 105-133)

    Science in the courtroom goes beyond forensic evidence and novel physiological measurements of emotional states. As anotherway of knowing, psychological syndromes present judges with even more complex decisional subject matter. To the uninitiated, psychological syndrome evidence may appear worlds apart from the lab science of DNA evidence or the wires and machines of polygraph evidence. Psychological syndromes, however, are considered scientific evidence in the judicial system and they are analyzed through the use of scientific admissibility jurisprudence (e.g., Giannelli and Imwinkelried 1993). The following analysis examines two gatekeeping puzzles for two syndromes: rape trauma syndrome and battered wife syndrome,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 GATEKEEPERS AND THE POLITICS OF KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 134-142)

    Politics is very much a part of judicial decisions to admit or reject novel scientific evidence. Indeed, political variables have a great deal more to do with gatekeeping than scientific variables. The preceding analysis examined state supreme court jurisprudence with regard to forensic DNA evidence, polygraph evidence, and psychological syndrome evidence. Each of these “ways of knowing” is a very peculiar stranger to admit to our judicial city. DNA evidence was the type of stranger initially received with mixed outcomes, only to find gatekeepers ultimately converging on acceptance. Syndrome evidence continues to experience conditional acceptance in a “well, it depends...

  11. CHAPTER 7 NEW CLUES? GATEKEEPING AND THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
    (pp. 143-164)

    If we think of judicial gatekeeping outcomes at the state supreme court level as gatekeeping policy for the jurisdiction, we can step back from the narrow question of admissibility to the broader question of policy outcomes. How do we predict policy outcomes? This book adopted the perspective of judicial cognitive processes and the immediate case factors that may inform those processes. This is, however, only one starting point.

    The larger political-science question of predicting policy outcomes might also inform our analysis from several vantage points. If we are interested in the development of judicial policy or policy more generally, we...

  12. APPENDIX A STATE SUPREME COURT CASES FOR FORENSIC DNA
    (pp. 165-170)
  13. APPENDIX B STATE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS FOR POLYGRAPH EVIDENCE
    (pp. 171-176)
  14. APPENDIX C STATE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS FOR SYNDROME EVIDENCE
    (pp. 177-180)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 181-182)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 183-190)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 191-200)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-202)