By Gabriel Eskandari, Catherine Potente, Katherine Coviello and Veronica Miller
SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Senator Scott Wiener’s End Wrongful Convictions Act, SB 467, unanimously passed the Senate Public Safety Committee late last week.
In a prepared statement, Sen. Wiener (D-San Francisco) said expert witnesses’ faulty forensic and scientific evidence is the second leading cause of wrongful convictions. SB 467 would amend the standards used to evaluate expert testimony and forensics in court.
Currently, courts have discretion over the admissibility of expert testimony, which is often done with insufficient scrutiny and leads to imprecision, human error, and wrongful convictions. Sen. Wiener argues that expert testimony not based on sound logic should be inadmissible.
Senator Wiener stated, “When science evolves, so should our standards for admissible scientific evidence in court … Innocent people should not be in prison because of outdated or faulty science. That’s why the End Wrongful Convictions Act will refine the standards for expert witness testimony in court, and will provide critical avenues for post-conviction relief. Even one innocent person in prison is a miscarriage of justice, and we will not stand for it.”
Specifically, SB 467 states that opinions based on flawed scientific research or outdated technology count as false testimony. It also argues “expert opinions lacking valid methodology, research, peer-reviewed studies, or scientifically sound data” shall not be admissible.
Notably, SB 467 provides a provision to strengthen peoples’ ability to seek post-conviction exoneration if convicted based on false expert testimony.
One example is fingerprint analysis—recent studies by the National Academy of Science and neuroscientist Dr. Itiel Dror have shown to be unreliable, with jurors often having unrealistic preconceived notions about the availability and precision of forensic evidence due to popular culture.
Sen. Wiener also wrote SB 923 to address eyewitness identification, another leading cause of wrongful convictions. SB 923 created evidence-based standards for law enforcement when obtaining eyewitness identification in California.
The California Innocence Coalition, a coalition comprised of the Northern California Innocence Project, the California Innocence Project, and the Loyola Project for the Innocent, sponsored SB 467.