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Failed Evidence

Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

David A. Harris
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 269
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  • Book Info
    Failed Evidence
    Book Description:

    With the popularity of crime dramas like CSI focusing on forensic science, and increasing numbers of police and prosecutors making wide-spread use of DNA, high-tech science seems to have become the handmaiden of law enforcement. But this is a myth,asserts law professor and nationally known expert on police profiling David A. Harris. In fact, most of law enforcement does not embrace science - it rejects it instead, resisting it vigorously. The question at the heart of this book is why. Eyewitness identifications procedures using simultaneous lineups - showing the witness six persons together,as police have traditionally done - produces a significant number of incorrect identifications. Interrogations that include threats of harsh penalties and untruths about the existence of evidence proving the suspect's guilt significantly increase the prospect of an innocent person confessing falsely. Fingerprint matching does not use probability calculations based on collected and standardized data to generate conclusions, but rather human interpretation and judgment.Examiners generally claim a zero rate of error - an untenable claim in the face of publicly known errors by the best examiners in the U.S.Failed Evidence explores the real reasons that police and prosecutors resist scientific change, and it lays out a concrete plan to bring law enforcement into the scientific present. Written in a crisp and engaging style, free of legal and scientific jargon, Failed Evidence will explain to police and prosecutors, political leaders and policy makers, as well as other experts and anyone else who cares about how law enforcement does its job, where we should go from here. Because only if we understand why law enforcement resists science will we be able to break through this resistance and convince police and prosecutors to rely on the best that science has to offer.Justice demands no less.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9056-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: Science-Driven Policing, or Police Indifference to Science?
    (pp. 1-17)

    In 2010, and for the previous nine years running,CSI: Crime Scene Investigationranked among the most popular shows on television in the United States.¹ The program became a hit so quickly after its premiere in 2000 that the original series, set in Las Vegas, spawned two clones:CSI: MiamiandCSI: New York. These shows put a new twist on the old police procedural drama. TheCSIofficers solved crimes with high-tech forensics: gathering DNA, lifting fingerprints with revolutionary new techniques, and using science to reconstruct the paths of bullets. Watching these programs, the viewer knows that policing has...

  5. 2 Science and Traditional Police Investigative Methods: A Lot We Thought We Knew Was Wrong
    (pp. 18-56)

    When we think about the usual methods police use to investigate crimes, three things usually come to mind. First, when evidence leads police to a suspect, officers may interrogate the person. Second, officers may conduct identification procedures such as lineups, during which police display a group of six or eight similar-looking people for the witness to view, with instructions to pick out the person who committed the crime. Third, investigators may use forensic science to gather evidence that will help to put the perpetrator in jail. This may include everything from collecting DNA specimens to lifting and comparing fingerprints to...

  6. 3 In Their Own Words: Why Police and Prosecutors Say They Resist Science
    (pp. 57-77)

    With the flood of scientific research over the past several decades on forensic practices, interrogation of suspects, and eyewitness identification, an observer might guess that proposals for new ways to approach police investigation would receive overwhelming support. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Most police and prosecutors—not all, to be sure, but most—often want nothing to do with what scientists have discovered about the ways in which traditional police investigative techniques should change. DNA evidence emerges as the great exception to this resistance: a science-based silver bullet that identifies criminals we would never have caught before. Police love the...

  7. 4 The Real Reasons for Resistance: Cognitive Barriers
    (pp. 78-98)

    As we have seen in the previous chapters, scientists in multiple fields have done rigorous, peer-reviewed work that casts doubt on some of the most common procedures in police investigation: suspect interrogation, eyewitness identification, and most forensic science methods. Just as important, the same science also tells us how to correct many of these procedures to produce better, more reliable evidence that will not result in wrongful convictions. Yet most police and prosecutors have tended to resist much of what science seems to say on these questions. New procedures would cost too much, some say. This research and scientific work...

  8. 5 The Real Reasons for Resistance: Institutional and Political Barriers
    (pp. 99-127)

    In chapter 4, we saw that much of the resistance to better methods of police investigative practice comes from cognitive barriers to change, such as cognitive dissonance, loss aversion, and status quo bias, the polarization of groups, and challenges to status. These explanations help us understand why police officers, prosecutors, their agencies, and their professional organizations resist the implementation of new methods, despite a strong scientific consensus on the benefits of virtually all of the changes that follow from the research. In this chapter, we explore another group of reasons for resistance: institutional and political barriers to change, which have...

  9. 6 What Must Be Done and How to Make It Happen
    (pp. 128-168)

    We now have a clear picture of the problem. Law enforcement has fully embraced DNA as an investigative tool and continues to use most forensic methods. But despite the appearance of science-driven police and prosecution work that emerges in both the press (the near-constant drumbeat of DNA-based convictions) and in popular entertainment (CSI ad nauseum), law enforcement generally does not wish to adopt the best practices toward which science points. Instead, most police and prosecutors—not all, but most—resist. And we see now that this resistance involves cognitive, professional, and institutional barriers.

    This brings us to some difficult questions. If science...

  10. 7 Reasons for Hope: Examples of Real Change
    (pp. 169-190)

    Having come this far, we know the problem is real, and solutions are within reach. Not every law enforcement agency and prosecutor’s office has resisted better methods. While still relatively few, a growing number have decided to make changes to their basic procedures to bring them into line with the best current science. Most of these agencies have adopted reforms governing a single category of problems: eyewitness identifications or suspect interrogations, for example. Others have been more ambitious. In some cases, these agencies have initiated changes themselves; at other times, another government authority — a state legislature or a court — has...

  11. 8 Conclusion: From the Task to the Solutions
    (pp. 191-196)

    When most people think about modern law enforcement and prosecution, they believe that science propels police work and proof in court in the twenty-first century. Popular entertainment portrays police work as 90 percent test tubes and lab coats and 10 percent old-fashioned hustle; news reports feature DNA implicating the bad guys in both new crimes and cold cases. Science has become the handmaiden of police work.

    This view rests on a skewed and incomplete version of the facts. The science-driven policen investigation that seals a case in the courtroom makes great television and movies, but the real world of law...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 197-250)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 251-259)
    (pp. 260-260)