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Failed Evidence

Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

David A. Harris

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. ix-x

Understanding the issues discussed in this book presented a great challenge, and I could not have managed to find my way into the many layers that surround this subject without the help of those individuals who were willing to talk with me and share their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. They included present and former prosecutors, police...

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1. Introduction: Science-Driven Policing, or Police Indifference to Science?

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pp. 1-17

In 2010, and for the previous nine years running, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ranked among the most popular shows on television in the United States. The program became a hit so quickly after its premiere in 2000 that the original series, set in Las Vegas, spawned two clones: CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. These shows put a new twist on the...

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2. Science and Traditional Police Investigative Methods: A Lot We Thought We Knew Was Wrong

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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...

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3. In Their Own Words: Why Police and Prosecutors Say They Resist Science

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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...

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4. The Real Reasons for Resistance: Cognitive Barriers

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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...

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5. The Real Reasons for Resistance: Institutional and Political Barriers

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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...

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6. What Must Be Done and How to Make It Happen

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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...

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7. Reasons for Hope: Examples of Real Change

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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...

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8. Conclusion: From the Task to the Solutions

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pp. 191-195

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...


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pp. 197-249


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pp. 251-259

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About the Author

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p. 260

David A. Harris is Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Professor of Law, and the Associate Dean for Research at the University of Pittsburgh. He teaches Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, Evidence, Criminal Justice Policy, and courses in homeland security. His research covers police behavior...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790564
E-ISBN-10: 0814790550
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814790557
Print-ISBN-10: 0814790550

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 821735444
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Failed Evidence

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Subject Headings

  • Criminal justice, Administration of -- United States.
  • Law enforcement -- United States.
  • Science -- United States.
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