The National Academy of Science has reported that the courts have been less than receptive to the scientific analysis and critique of certain forensic sciences. Trace evidence (e.g. fingerprint, ballistics) has been admitted into evidence without critical scrutiny at any court level, notwithstanding serious questions about the extent to which this evidence comports with the norms of science. And these deficiencies raise particular issues in connection with certain areas. Recent advances in neuroscience, for example, seek to address fundamental criminal law concepts such as impulsivity, mens rea, risk assessment, or lie detection (“No Lie MRI”). (More recently, neuroscientific evidence was used in the Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller, dealing with the mandatory application of life without parole to juveniles.) Social psychology and neuroscience, along with DNA exonerations, have raised fundamental questions with respect to eye witness identification. The seminar will seek to understand the relationship between courts and forensic sciences more generally touching on issues regarding the philosophy of science, the scientific method, the rules of evidence, and the conduct of trials. While scientific proof may be based on group data, courtroom testimony purports to draw conclusions about individuals. While scientific conclusions may be tentative, evolving, courtroom testimony requires the decisionmaker to come to a decision. The students will produce a paper on a topic raised by the course materials or one in litigation.
Prerequisite: Course enrollment is by permission of the faculty.