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The Increasing Role Of Science In Criminal Cases

by Theresa Hoffman

 Criminal cases generally hinge on what the evidence indicates. Unsurprisingly, this means prosecutors love almost anything that supplies them with more evidence. For decades this has meant that criminal prosecutions have incorporated more and more science.

This has major implications for defendants. Foremost, prosecutors aren't always picky about science versus junk science when they think a jury will buy an argument. Secondly, even proven science requires competent interpretation. Third, lab tests often tip the balance on whether something counts as evidence. Let's look at the increasing role of science in criminal law and how to argue against it.

What Is Scientific Evidence?

Evidence is usually considered scientific if it holds up to some standard of mathematical rigor. Consider the science of fingerprint analysis. The government maintains gigantic databases of fingerprints from practically anyone who has ever been booked by the police, sought a federal or state job, served as a foster parent, or done one of hundreds of other things. Fingerprint analysis hinges on the idea that it's statistically beyond unlikely that any two people would have the same prints and also have been at a crime scene at the same time.

Increasing Use

Scientific evidence comes into court in the form of fingerprint and DNA analysis. It also shows up frequently in traffic cases in the form of breath analysis for DUIs and even radar scanning for speeding tickets. There are also technologies like facial and voice recognition. Police departments also send units to locations based on sound detection methods.

Arguing Against Scientific Evidence

A criminal attorney can argue against scientific evidence on several grounds. Commonly, a criminal lawyer will argue that the state didn't do the analysis correctly. For example, they might show that a lab technician mishandled a drug sample in a possession case.

Similarly, a criminal attorney could argue against the scientific validity of the evidence. Counsel could question whether the statistical claims about the frequency of matches are correct.

A criminal lawyer may also argue that the evidence makes sense under the circumstances. You wouldn't be surprised, after all, if the cops found DNA evidence from your hair at your place of work.


Ultimately, a criminal attorney wants to file a motion to either exclude the evidence or dismiss the charges. They will ask the judge to consider whether the evidence holds up to scrutiny. In some instances, this may require doing additional testing or bringing in experts to refute the state's claims. 

For more information, contact a local criminal lawyer