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Black Robes, White Coats

The Puzzle of Judicial Policymaking and Scientific Evidence

Rebecca C. Harris

Publication Year: 2008

Combining political analysis, scientific reasoning, and an in-depth study of specific state supreme court cases, Black Robes, White Coats is an interdisciplinary examination of the tradition of “gatekeeping,” the practice of deciding the admissibility of novel scientific evidence. Rebecca Harris systematically examines judicial policymaking in three areas —forensic DNA, polygraphs, and psychological syndrome evidence.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. v

List of Tables

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-6

This book is about a particular interaction between two very different creatures: judges and scientists. These professions outfit themselves in special attire symbolizing the nature of their work. Judges are in the business of processing defendants, using wisdom and...

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Chapter 1: The Mystery of the Gatekeepers

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pp. 7-13

Imagine for a minute that you are observing an ancient society where people live in walled cities and public servants are employed to police the gates. By implicit agreement, these public servants would be charged with orders to allow only certain kinds of strangers into...

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Chapter 2: Clues to Judicial Behavior

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pp. 14-35

The puzzle of state supreme court variance in gatekeeping policy necessitates the search for clues to judicial behavior. When courts from different states are reaching different conclusions about the admissibility of the same science, it is natural to ask for an explanation....

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Chapter 3: Forensic DNA: Law Enforcement in the Laboratory

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pp. 36-67

As a very important way of knowing, forensic DNA evidence presents the first gatekeeping mystery for exploration. The DNA controversy officially began in 1989 with the first American appellate case. The first high court to render a decision on the admissibility of...

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Chapter 4: Lie Detection: Victim of Law and Politics

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pp. 68-104

The judicial debate over lie detectors, or polygraphs, has been very long and involved. The original U.S. Supreme Court decision on the admissibility of scientific evidence,...

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Chapter 5: Syndrome Evidence: Science Isn't Everything

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pp. 105-133

Science in the courtroom goes beyond forensic evidence and novel physiological measurements of emotional states. As another way of knowing, psychological syndromes present judges with even more complex decisional subject matter. To the uninitiated,..

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Chapter 6: Gatekeepers and the Politics of Knowledge

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pp. 134-142

Politics is very much a part of judicial decisions to admit or reject novel scientific evidence. Indeed, political variables have a great deal more to do with gatekeeping than scientific variables. The preceding analysis examined state supreme court jurisprudence...

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Chapter 7: New Clues? Gatekeeping and the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 143-163

If we think of judicial gatekeeping outcomes at the state supreme court level as gatekeeping policy for the jurisdiction, we can step back from the narrow question of admissibility to the broader question of policy outcomes. How do we predict policy outcomes?...

Appendix A: State Supreme Court Cases for Forensic DNA

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pp. 165-170

Appendix B: State Supreme Court Decisions for Polygraph Evidence

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pp. 171-176

Appendix C: State Supreme Court Decisions for Syndrome Evidence

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pp. 177-179


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pp. 181-182


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pp. 183-189


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pp. 191-200

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About the Author

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pp. 201

Rebecca C. Harris (PhD, Political Science) is an assistant professor of politics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington,Virginia. She is a public-policy scholar with an emphasis on law and science....

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545646
E-ISBN-10: 0813545641
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813543680
Print-ISBN-10: 0813543681

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 40 tables
Publication Year: 2008