Jul
02
2007

Here comes da’ judge: The law needs to keep up on science

Who has the most influence in a courtroom -- the wise old judge, the quick-witted attorneys, the unjaded jurors or popular TV showsScientific verdict: With a growing amount of court evidence relying on scientific methods, judges are under a growing need to know more about current science and what is accurate research and what is shaky. (Photo by Chili Media)
Scientific verdict: With a growing amount of court evidence relying on scientific methods, judges are under a growing need to know more about current science and what is accurate research and what is shaky. (Photo by Chili Media)
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A group of judges meeting in Ohio last week want to make sure it’s not that final item. But the special three-day seminar was set up due to the effects judges are seeing in their courtroom caused by episodes of the CSI TV series.

Television viewers like the mystery and intrigue shown on the Crime Scene Investigation shows, but the science presented there isn’t always correct. But jurors coming to courtrooms don’t always know that.

That all means that judges need to know a lot more about current science when managing their courtrooms. They’re the gatekeepers to the scientific data that’s presented in court cases. They have to decide if one side’s scientific expert on a case is actually sharing “junk science.”

One judge at the conference reported that a juror on a case she tried was sure that hand-writing experts can determine the gender of a writer based on information that the juror saw on a CSI show. In actuality, that’s not possible.

With the increased use of DNA evidence in court cases, science has taken on a larger role in courtrooms since the 1990s. In many cases, it can be the make-or-break piece of evidence to convict or acquit a defendant.

Another major portion of their conference was devoted to dealing with hypothetical scientific court cases of the future, such as parents who are not satisfied with the result of genetic make-up of their child that had planned to have; liability for unexpected outcomes of genetically-programmed prescription drugs; or the punishments that appropriate for certain lawbreakers who may have chemical or genetic make-ups that make them more prone to commit certain crimes; just to name a few.

It sounds like judges are going to have a lot more homework to do to handle all the new science coming to their courts.

What other areas of science do you think the law needs to be better informed about? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

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