The Unrealized Promise of Forensic Science -- An Empirical Study of its Production and Use

50 Pages Posted: 24 May 2018

See all articles by James M. Anderson

James M. Anderson

RAND Corporation

Carl Matthies

RAND Corporation

Sarah Greathouse

RAND Corporation

A.V. Chari

University of Sussex - School of Business, Management and Economics

Date Written: May 14, 2018

Abstract

In theory, forensic science provides independent, objective, dispassionate evidence in proceedings often charged with emotion and the failings of human recollection. But how does it work in practice? We collected data on the prevalence and use of forensic evidence in five jurisdictions across the United States. We also analyzed existing data on crime labs and conducted an experimental survey of prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys to measure the effect of forensic evidence on the plea-bargaining process.

Our findings are sobering. Despite considerable investment in forensic databases and crime laboratory upgrades to improve capacity, forensic evidence is still being analyzed in only a small fraction of cases in which it is available. Moreover, it is typically used post-arrest to confirm suspicions rather than as an independent diagnostic tool to identify suspects. While forensic evidence is regularly used in homicides, its use is highly limited by resource constraints, resulting in long turnaround times for less serious offenses, which encourage police to and prosecutors rely on other types of evidence. As a result, the full potential of forensic evidence remains unrealized.

Suggested Citation

Anderson, James M. and Matthies, Carl and Greathouse, Sarah and Chari, Amalavoyal, The Unrealized Promise of Forensic Science -- An Empirical Study of its Production and Use (May 14, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3178156 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3178156

James M. Anderson (Contact Author)

RAND Corporation ( email )

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Carl Matthies

RAND Corporation ( email )

1776 Main Street
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United States

Sarah Greathouse

RAND Corporation ( email )

1776 Main Street
P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

Amalavoyal Chari

University of Sussex - School of Business, Management and Economics ( email )

Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SL
United Kingdom

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