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How bad science can leave you facing a wrongful conviction

If there is anything that crime shows like "CSI" teach of it's that forensic science is oftentimes the key to getting a conviction. Without it, prosecutors have to let "the bad guy" walk free because they don't have the evidence they need to put them away for the crime.

But thanks to groups like the Innocence Project, we can see that forensic science isn't infallible. Many techniques, from bite mark comparisons to blood splatter analysis, have not been put through the rigors of evaluation by the scientific community. More still aren't standardized, making room for procedural errors and the possibility of wrongful convictions too.

Our Columbia readers can see this by looking at an out-of-state case in which a man served 26 years for setting a fire that killed his wife and two daughters. It wasn't until after reviewing the evidence -- nearly 25 years later -- that experts finally agreed with what the man had been telling the courts from the beginning: he hadn't done anything wrong.

If you think this case is one of the rare ones, it's not. It is just one of many that have shown the imperfection of forensic science and the problems it creates for innocent people.

Just as in the out-of-state case we mentioned above, here is Missouri arson is considered a serious crime. If it results in injury or death, a person could be charged with a class A felony that may lead to a maximum of 30 years or life in prison.

For a lot of our readers, both returning and new alike, penalties like this should be reason enough for the courts to make sure that the forensic techniques that are being used to gather evidence are vetted and deemed scientifically sound so that people aren't being punished for crimes they didn't commit. And because our courts are also there to dole out justice, it isn't farfetched to say that courts also owe it convicts to review appeals, especially if it's possible that they may have been wrongfully convicted because of bad forensic science.

Sources: NBC News, "Trial by Fire: Junk Science Sent Dad to Prison for Killing Wife, Kids," Hannah Rappleye et al, June 19, 2014

Missouri General Assembly, "RSMo § 569.040. 1," Accessed June 15, 2015

Missouri General Assembly, "RSMo § 558.011. 1," Accessed June 15, 2015

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