Six Types of Evidence Used in Courts that are Commonly Wrong

The Criminal Justice System is certainly not perfect, yet we continue to look to it to meet out justice. Did you know, however, that three types of evidence used repeatedly and for decades continues to be collected and utilized improperly? A recent Washington Post article identifies six noteworthy trends. We unpack these and share how recording is rising not only in popularity as a tool to protect innocent people but also to gather confessions without coercion.

Opinion Writer George Will shares in the article published late October the Washington Post The GOP’s Justice Reform Opportunity, that Republicans hoping to court more African American vote need to be mindful of many of the reasons that the demographic may not be so easily swayed to come to their side of the table. Not only do African Americans make up a disproportionately large segment of the population in prison, but they their “encounters with the criminal justice system are dismayingly frequent and frequently dismaying.”

What we want to highlight are the trends in the improper application of some of the most “trusted” evidence that is utilized as credible but ends up becoming an essential piece in the conviction, landing between 1-5% of innocent people to prison.

The six pieces of evidence include:

  1. Eyewitness Testimony
  2. Fingerprint Evidence
  3. Spectrographic Voice Identification
  4. Handwriting Identification
  5. DNA Evidence
  6. Human Memory

Will explains:

‘Eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, especially where the witness and the perpetrator are of different races.’ Mistaken eyewitnesses figured in 34 percent of wrongful convictions in the database of the National Registry of Exonerations. Fingerprint evidence, too, has ‘a significant error rateas does spectrographic voice identification (error rates up to 63 percent) and handwriting identification (error rates average 40 percent). Many defendants have spent years in prison ‘based on evidence by arson experts who were later shown to be little better than witch doctors.’ DNA evidence is reliable when properly handled but is only as good as are the fallible testing labs.

This leads to his next point, in which he explains how pulling many of the components together relies significantly on human memory. Unfortunately, he adds that “the more we learn about the way memories are ‘recorded, stored and retrieved,’ the less confidence we can have that memories are undistorted and unembellished by the mind or external influences. And courts rarely allow expert testimony on memory.”

What is incredible is that none of this has to be the case because we have tools right now that can serve to ensure traditional evidence and evidence collection go on and be utilized properly. Problems with human memory can be easily resolved when law enforcement teams and professionals utilized technology that is already in widespread use among departments across the nation.

Enter digital audio and video recording equipment. You are seeing more dashcams, body worn cams, and other devices hit the market today in the wake of the intense and increasingly publicized encounters between police and citizens. Getting the right people engaged in conversations about the benefits of recording equipment, up-to-date interview rooms, and evidence management software is a great place to start.

Why Not Go Digital in 2015-2016?

We’d love to help you join in the conversation. Does your agency or department currently utilize digital recording equipment to capture, save, and share evidence? Juries and judges alike prefer and in many states courts require the use now of recorded evidence. We’d love to help you bring your own interview rooms up to speed or show you how in 2015-2016. Contact us today to learn how.

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