Looking Backwards at Old Cases: When Science Moves Forward

Epstein, Jules | January 1, 2016

Forensic evidence—be it in the form of science-derived analyses such as DNA profiling or drug identification, or in more subjective analyses such as pattern or impression [latent print, handwriting, firearms] examinations—is prevalent and often critical in criminal prosecutions. Yet, while the criminal court processes prize finality of verdicts, science evolves and often proves that earlier analyses were inadequate or plainly wrong. This article examines the tension between those two concerns by focusing on the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Maryland v. Kulbicki, addresses the inadequacies of the Court’s analysis, and suggests some factors for judges confronted with changing science to weigh when reviewing convictions where the forensic evidence was core to the prosecution’s proof.