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Amero's case offers more evidence that the criminal justice system hasn't adequately adapted to a generation's worth of technological advances. Our courts are in bad need of some significant reforms, particularly when it comes to expert testimony. It’s one thing to have two competent, qualified experts arguing over evidence that can be interpreted in several ways. It’s something else to allow jurors to consider evidence that’s objectively, provably false. That’s particularly true when it comes from the prosecution's expert witnesses, whom jurors often give more deference to because they’re seen less as hired guns, and more as objective public servants.
Here, a clueless "computer crimes investigator" was permitted to give clearly erroneous testimony in a felony trial. Jurors were instructed to give that expert equal consideration to Amero’s own expert witness, who actually knew what he was talking about. It makes you ponder how many other local police departments have a resident "computer guy" who regularly testifies in criminal trials—and is in way over his head.
The solution is to work peer review, redundancy, and double-checking into the process of admitting forensic evidence at trial. Had three or four actual tech experts had the opportunity to review the conclusions of the Norwich PD's computer “expert,” they would have quickly seen his errors and recognized the symptoms of a malware infestation—just as they did when the case hit the Internet. The crucial difference is that they would have noticed all of this before Amero was charged and convicted, not after.
The very foundation of scientific inquiry is rooted in the peer-review process. It’s really an inexcusable failure that we haven’t yet found a way to utilize peer review to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the scientific evidence admitted in criminal cases—particularly given what's at stake.
Radley Balko is a senior editor at reason.