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Guilty. This is a word that has sent an estimated one-hundred-thousand people to prison for crimes they were accused of despite the fact that they did not commit them. Now the question that the United States’ must ask is, how did something like that happen? Well, truthfully, the reason these people are going to jail even though they did not commit the crimes they were accused of is due to errors in forensic science caused by the use of faulty methods. Sadly, errors and faulty methods of studying crime scenes and the people involved with them have been occurring for centuries. In fact, in the dark ages, they would make the prisoners hold a hot iron and if it hurt, they were considered to be lying.
This issue will hurt us in the long run. Problems with forensic science cannot just send innocent people to jail, but it can also steal the innocent’s liberty and security. However, there may have a solution to help prevent the number of innocent people in jail from rising much more and secure the liberty and security of those at risk, which is everyone. The errors in forensic science can be lowered by conducting more frequent checks of our forensic science lab’s accuracy, removing the use of eyewitness reports and their practice stopping the use of a polygraph machine on suspects, and by stopping the use of a polygraph machine on suspects, we can help protect innocent people from being wrongly convicted of a crime they did not commit.
To begin, the nation’s forensic science labs are essential to the science, however, some just are not doing their jobs right. Now everyone makes mistakes, but ninety percent of the FBI’s microscopic hair analysis contained errors in cases they gave testimony in favoring the side of the prosecution. Due to help from the Innocence Project, the Department of Justice, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, errors were capable of being addressed that were made by the FBI analysts during their testimonies and their lab reports. To get specific, out of 342 cases they reviewed, 268 of those cases involved hair evidence being used against defendants. Out of those 268 cases reviewed, 257, or ninety-six percent, of those cases involved false or flawed testimony that leans towards the side of the prosecutions. Sadly, this has caused deaths to people not even guilty of the crime they were arrested for, as the FBI report states, “Defendants in at least 35 of these cases received the death penalty and errors were identified in thirty-three (ninety-four percent) of those cases. Nine of these defendants have already been executed and five died of other causes while on death row.” None the less, inadequate conductions of reviews on lab testimonies and reports are not the only thing flawed with the practices of forensic science.
Now that the issue with the nation’s forensic science unit has been addressed, it is now time to address the fact we use an unreliable system for identifying suspects through eyewitness reports. When a criminal event happens, police officers go and find the people near that heard, saw, or were a victim of this event. When this happens, they ask for looks, sounds of their voice, the look of their posture, and more to help find their suspect(s). However, as most people know, the memory of a human is very untrustworthy. Yet still, detectives and specialists utilize human memory and trust it to give us a very accurate or very close detail of the suspect, even after all the confusion that happened in the blur of the moment. For example, imagine you are in a park when a strange man walks up to you, he is coughing while he tries to ask you where the park’s main fountain is, as you happen to have a map. You do not look at him much and as you open your bag to grab your map, he grabs it and rushes away and you still fail to catch a glimpse of his face. However, the police are now questioning you as they ask, “What did he look like?” We humans tend to have a tendency to jump to conclusions and therefore would most likely say, “he was an older yet fit man,” because he was coughing and then ripped your bag away and rushed out of the scene. And this is why innocent people are put behind bars without even doing the crime. Still again, there is another method our forensic science units in America use that puts people behind bars without a lot of valid evidence.
Another common way people are misled into believing someone committed a crime they actually did not commit is through the polygraph machine. Think about it, what do people think of when they think of detecting the truth? Most people would think of the polygraph because of its accuracy, but that is not completely accurate. In fact, the polygraph’s history is littered with people able to pass the test regardless of the fact that they actually committed the crime and vice versa. In fact, George Maschke, former intelligence officer for the US Army and current co-founder of AntiPolygraph.Org, says all you have to do to beat the polygraph is, “to understand how to recognize the control questions and augment reactions to them with techniques such as biting the side of your tongue or solving a math equation in your head.”
Now, with this being said, many might be thinking, how will this affect me? To answer that truthfully, it affects you greatly. Consider of the liberty everybody has right now. That is precisely what is at stake. With these faulty methods being used to find criminals, people are going to jail for heinous crimes that they did not commit. Then, you not only have to pay a huge amount of time for someone else’s crime, but you also lose many luxuries many take for granted such as the right to vote, freedom to own a gun, and others included. What if you had to go to jail for thirty years to life for a murder you did not commit? What would happen to life as you know it? Would you lose your kids, get fired from that great job you have been working at, or have everyone look at you differently when you go in for a job interview? Now, what if you cannot own a gun because you are a convicted felon?
Ah, yes! Safety! Something we all hold at stake. Whether it be our assets, our families, or ourselves, we all care about the safety of them, some care more for life than assets and some are quite the opposite. However, what if I was to say to you that they are both endangered equally? This is no joke. Your assets are your books, property, and your money and they are endangered. If you go to jail, the court can order that your assets be used to pay for fees, and if you have enough money for it, then you are just fine, but what about later on down the road? What happens when you cannot pay the taxes owed to keep your property? Well, the bank will take it due to foreclosure. What happens to the stuff in the house? They take those also to cover the cost of closing fees and maintaining the property, and that is just the assets! What about when you get out of jail, and get settled back into society? Well, if you live in a rough part of town, you might need a gun to protect yourself and others, but wait, you cannot get one. Felons are not allowed to legally get a gun anywhere in the United States, for good reason. So what happens if you get burglarized? You will most likely, either back down and lose all your important items and cash or you will fight back and most likely (if you obey the law) get shot due to you fighting against a gun with your bare hands. Now this is only if we allow the jury and United States citizens be fooled by such faulty methods that are presented into courts, which can be stopped.
Now, undoubtedly, a few or many of you believe this could not happen to you because you are an upstanding citizen. However, the statistics are largely against them if they are the suspect of a crime they did not commit unless the actual person confesses or messes up when he is speaking. In fact, eyewitness reports have a seventy-one percent error rate, false or misleading testimony by forensic scientists occur twenty-one percent of the time, and errors in forensic science testing occurs sixty-three percent of the time (Koehler, 1). With that said, once you are placed as a suspect through eyewitness reports, and then an through the forensic science cycle including DNA tests, polygraph exams, and shoe print examinations, the likelihood of the analyst saying it had to be you or exaggerating his results in favor of the prosecution in twenty-seven percent which seems small but with all the others errors included, you will most likely be charged with that crime. However, by conducting more forensic lab evaluations, removing the use of eyewitness reports, and stopping the use of the polygraph machine, these odds will be none and your security and blessings of liberty with still be safe, but there are some who disagree and wish to keep the eyewitness reports and the use of the polygraph machine.
As read before, there are some who agree that eyewitness reports are useful such as Connect US who, on their pros and cons debate topic site, state the following:
“When the testimony is obtained and reported right after the event took place, the witness’ memory is still fresh, which means that there is a higher chance that his or her account of the incident is still vivid in his or her mind. This makes his or her testimony more reliable.”
Statistics would like to disagree. The human mind is complex and perfect recall is something we just cannot do (although many claim to be able to do so). This being said, we simply could not rely on human memory to give an accurate description of the criminal especially in the bigger cities where there is even bigger room for error.
Never the less, many will also back up the use of the polygraph machine. The American Polygraph Association (also known as the APA) stands by the polygraph machine as they state on their website, “The APA believes that well-informed departments, agencies, and clients will insist on … their polygraph services”. Before examination, the examiner will attach metal finger straps to your fingers that will measure both blood pressure and the perspiration of the examinee. After doing the examiner will ask the examinee questions and the machine, the polygraph, will record the blood pressure and perspiration and some machines or places require more in-depth testing of breathing and more and write the levels onto a continuous sheet of paper in an almost printing like manner. Though, however convincing this may sound, the test is of chance and today’s machines were made by interrogators, not scientists. Like stated before, this machine can easily be tricked with some articles almost anyone can read online or attend classes taught by polygraph experts, many agree that the polygraph machine is not an effective machine as Geraint Rees, the director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience says, ” What we can’t do is say that because a particular area of the brain is active someone was doing something like lying. Any brain area does multiple things.”
So, is the United States’ forensic science unit ruined? Well, not really. How can the nation and its people fix this issue you might be asking? First, the nation must remove the use of the polygraph because it is easy to manipulate if you want to do so. The polygraph machine is a chance machine that sometimes acts like a human and lies while other times is easily tricked by people who know how. Secondly, the nation must stop the use of eyewitness reports or else more and more people will go to jail. To repeat, over seventy percent of eyewitness reports contains errors. Lastly, the nation’s and state’s need to conduct more frequent checks and reviews over our nations and law enforcement forensic labs for their accuracy and practices. With this combined approach, the United States will be able to lower our errors in forensic science because our other methods are nearly perfect in their accuracy. The people of each state of the United States need to stop this, and to do so, the citizens need to start small and they need to sign a petition to remove the use of the polygraph, to remove the use of the eyewitness reports, and to conduct more frequent checks of their state’s and nation’s forensic labs and send it to our governor. This needs to be changed before people like you and me are locked up and it is too late to do so.
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