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How Bad Science is Corrupting the Justice System

ProPublica, Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Criminal Justice Policy Program, and The New York Times Magazine present an in-depth discussion on faulty forensic testimony in the courtroom and its devastating consequences, as well as efforts around the country that show the potential for reform.

ProPublica, in partnership with The New York Times Magazine, has traced how one forensic discipline — bloodstain-pattern analysis — has become entrenched in our legal system despite grave questions about its accuracy. Published in May, the series “Blood Will Tell” explored how a Texas man was convicted of murder using bloodstain pattern-analysis that has been called into question, and it showed that his case is but one of many troubling examples of faulty forensics subverting justice.

In 2009, a National Academy of Sciences report sounded the alarm about a number of forensic disciplines, including the analysis of blood, hairs, bite marks, shoe and tire impressions, handwriting and even fingerprints. Despite calls for widespread reform, many of these disciplines remain fixtures of the American legal system. Faulty forensic science is the second-most common contributing factor to wrongful convictions, found in nearly half of DNA exoneration cases.

At “How Bad Science Is Corrupting the Justice System,” Houston Institute legal fellow Katy Naples-Mitchell will moderate a conversation with Nicole Cásarez, board director of the Houston Forensic Science Center, one of the nation’s few crime labs that is overseen by civilians, not police; ProPublica senior reporter and New York Times Magazine writer at large Pamela Colloff, who wrote the series, “Blood Will Tell”; Harvard Law School senior lecturer and former judge Nancy Gertner, one of the few American judges who has spoken out about the urgent need for forensic science reform; and Radha Natarajan, executive director of the New England Innocence Project, who helped lead the charge to enact Massachusetts’ new forensic science commission.

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