From gathering evidence illegally to not gathering evidence which could potentially support a client’s innocence when accused of a sex crime, there are many mistakes made in the obtaining/handling of evidence. Unfortunately, innocent individuals are wrongfully convicted of sex crimes every day. This may be due to improper forensic science, misconduct by police or prosecutors, mistaken identity, deceit, or even the fact the accused was represented by a defense attorney who was simply ineffective. In some instances, those accused even confess to crimes they didn’t commit due to intense interrogation by police – they “fold” under pressure.
Sex crimes attorneys often challenge the case brought by prosecutors by confronting the forensic and physical evidence (or lack thereof) presented against the accused. It’s important to keep in mind that scientific evidence is only as good as its collection and analysis, so there are questions that need to be asked. Some of these include:
Where and how was the evidence obtained? Was it gathered from the victim, the defendant, the crime scene – and could it have been contaminated?
Was the evidence handled properly? Evidence can be contaminated during handling, and chain of custody issues may also impact the case.
Was the evidence properly analyzed? Mistakes can be made by anyone in any profession.
What did police, forensic scientists, or others fail to do that may have supported the client’s innocence, such as the gathering or analyzing of additional evidence?
Confirmation bias – what it is, and its presence in forensic science
Confirmation bias is a term that’s quite simple to define, and is basically the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that confirms someone’s preexisting beliefs. For example, an investigator may gather new evidence and confirm that evidence only strengthens his/her theory, without considering alternative possibilities. Essentially, this is a type of cognitive bias that people may use to confirm the beliefs or suspicions they have already formed, rather than considering the possibility it may support other possibilities.
The types of errors that occur in forensic science and help understand confirmation bias include:
Honest errors – in this instance, errors may be made because of a lack of training/mentoring, being under pressure or a deadline, or being overworked, or because of complacency or administrative errors.
Ethics violation – this type of error occurs when prints (fingerprints, handprints, etc.) are fabricated, the results are skewed intentionally, or results estimated without an examination being completed.
Biased oversight – In some cases, bias and honest miscalculations may overlap. For instance, lack of training could result in the misinterpretation of a distorted latent, and should the medical examiner be informed by police that the suspect had been identified as the perpetrator visually by the victim, no further testing may be conducted.
Unfortunately, there are many errors that can be made either by investigators or forensic experts in the gathering and handling of evidence. This results in innocent people being found guilty of sex crimes they did not commit, along with criminal penalties which not only steal their freedom, but ruin their reputations for a lifetime.
You might think that with all of the “checks and balances” of the criminal justice system today, no one who is innocent could possibly be found guilty of a crime he or she didn’t commit. The fact is, innocent people are wrongly convicted every single day across the country. Even with advancements in technology such as DNA testing, those who are guilty of committing rape, child molestation, sodomy, and other sex crimes remain free to live their lives, while others’ lives are literally ruined.
There are countless factors that can result in an innocent person being found guilty of a sex crime including investigative failures, ego of either an individual or his/her organization, fatigue, stress, and an overabundance of work, making assumptions, cognitive or confirmation bias, sloppy handling or analysis of evidence, and much more. Police often pursue the “easiest” target, and fail to thoroughly investigate all avenues and evidence. It’s easy for investigators to accuse a particular individual of a sex crime, even when the evidence is lacking. A fingerprint, spec of blood, a hair or fiber that is very similar to a suspect’s hair or clothing that he/she was wearing, failure of investigators’ collecting evidence at a crime scene because of the fact it doesn’t “fit” his or her theory on how the crime occurred, the list goes on and on.
The truth is police investigators often collect evidence in an effort to support their hypothesis or theory rather than disprove their suspicions. Often police and other involved in gathering evidence have a “one track mind,” and cannot think of a way to falsify the evidence they’ve discovered, but rather confirm it as fact. It’s easier, it fits their hypotheses, even their first instincts or intuition. However, this does not make their suspicions fact.
Regardless of DNA, fiber and hair evidence, timelines, alibis, and other factors, even in a society that’s so technologically advanced as ours is today there are still mistakes made in gathering evidence related to those who may or may not be involved in sex crimes. Talented criminal defense attorneys understand all of the weaknesses in collecting evidence, and work vigorously on behalf of the accused to ensure justice is served.