Book Review: Forensic Science Reform - Protecting the Innocent

We know that trying cases frequently requires experts to make connections between phenomena and their meaning that are beyond the grasp of ordinary persons to assist a legal fact finder to understand the significance of evidence in a case. Along with that is a theme — enunciated in the Daubert decision, the National Academies’ 2009 forensic science report, and last year’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report — that lawyers and judges often fail to effectively learn and deploy scientific and technical evidence in court. Koen and Bowers’ book joins a groundswell of publications directed at providing a framework for the practitioner to approach, understand, and structure evidence in meaningful ways at trial. This requires learning the limits of forensic science, chronicling the quest for validation of its practices, and (ultimately) objectively assessing its reliability for use in criminal cases. It does so by a practical, case study-based method that identifies cases in which forensics failed, deconstructs the source of the failures, and then explains the underpinnings of the individual forensic discipline involved to avoid failure in the future. The book goes a long way to assist lawyers and judges in understanding common forensic disciplines, how to assess their faults and foibles, and how to incorporate competent use of expert testimony into the courtroom.