By The Vanguard Staff
SACRAMENTO, CA – The Assembly Public Safety Committee this week approved, on a 6-1 vote, SB 467, which would more closely scrutinize “expert testimony” and is expected to change wrongful convictions.
The measure, which moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, is authored by CA State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who maintains his “End Wrongful Convictions Act” would amend the standards used for evaluating expert testimony and forensics in court post-conviction.
“Faulty forensic, medical, and scientific evidence, provided by expert witnesses, is the second most common reason that individuals are wrongfully convicted. Today, courts have discretion over which expert testimony is admissible,” according to the author’s office.
Wiener cites, “Studies (that) show courts accept most forensic science and expert testimony without sufficient scrutiny, leaving significant room for imprecision and human error. This error leads to the high rate of wrongful convictions. Expert testimony that fails to rely on sound logic should not be considered in court.”
SB 467 supporters explain false testimony includes “opinions based on flawed scientific research or outdated technology that is now unreliable or moot, and opinions about which a significant dispute has emerged regarding its validity.”
Wiener has noted that the bill “strengthens the grounds on which people can seek post-conviction relief if they have been wrongfully convicted based on unreliable expert testimony. This provision will help exonerate innocent people across California.”
“Expert witnesses can have a huge impact on a trial,” said Sen. Wiener. “We need to ensure their testimony is based on sound logic and science so that innocent people aren’t sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. Unreliable expert witness testimony is a major reason innocent people are wrongfully convicted.”
He added, “We need to ensure expert witnesses are truly experts, and that they’re relying on up-to-date science. That’s why the End Wrongful Convictions Act will improve standards for admissible testimony and help people seek post-conviction relief.
Recent studies from the National Academy of Science (NAS) and cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Itiel Dror have proven that fingerprint analysis, often part of expert witness testimony, is highly unreliable and subject to cognitive bias, cites Wiener.
The lawmaker added, “NAS also looked at what is known as the ‘CSI effect,’ where jurors tend toward ‘unrealistic and preconceived notions about the availability and precision of forensic evidence in criminal trials’ based on portrayals of expert witnesses in popular culture.
SB 467 is one of several California Innocence Coalition’s reform bills, including Wiener’s SB 923, which is designed to encourage law enforcement to use evidence-based procedures when obtaining eyewitness identification, another leading contributor to wrongful convictions proven with DNA evidence.
Before SB 923 was signed into law, Wiener stresses the state did not have any statewide best practices for eyewitness identification and there were no evidence-based standards.