Working with the Innocence Project, Sarah Chu ’23, a criminal justice doctoral candidate, witnessed how devastating forensic science errors can be. “We don’t have many systems that help us identify a mistake, ensure that the individuals involved in the case are notified, and make a correction,” Chu says. “The misapplication of forensic science—from human error to actual misconduct—contributes to nearly half of wrongful convictions in which DNA indicated the individual’s innocence.”
Why research errors in forensic science?
SC: Critical evidence that prosecutors in Texas hid for decades exonerated Michael Morton, leading legislators to pass the Michael Morton Act. The law changed the way cases are litigated in Texas and provided access to evidence the accused can use in their cases. This made my research on forensic science mistakes possible.
How might your research help change the criminal legal system?
SC: I had the incredible opportunity to obtain records from the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratories. My study evaluates those reports, characterizes them, and identifies what kind of problems trigger reporting to a higher authority. The second part characterizes and evaluates the self-disclosures laboratories make. My goal is to show how we can use this information to build and improve laboratories and forensic science systems, instead of tearing them down because of mistakes that they make.