Saturday, July 24, 2010

Flawed science

Yesterday I wrote about the back-door machinations over at the Texas Forensic Science Commission and an update from their meeting in Houston. The Houston Chronicle noted that a committee made up of members of the commission found that the "experts" who testified that Cameron Willingham set the fire that killed his children weren't negligent and did not exhibit any misconduct during their investigation or testimony in the case.

Now that's all well and good, but the issue isn't whether Deputy State Fire Marshall Manual Vasquez was negligent in his investigation or cooked the books -- the issue is whether the opinions to which Mr. Vasquez testified to at Mr. Willingham's trial were based on good science.

Texas Rule of Evidence 702 states that:
"If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise."
Rule 104 makes the judge the so-called gatekeeper when it comes to scientific evidence at trial. The judge makes this determination based on a set of factors laid out in Kelly v. State, 824 SW2d 568 (Tex.Crim.App. 1992). Scientific evidence is admissible if (1) the underlying theory is valid, (2) the technique applying the theory is valid and (3) the technique was applied properly on the time in question.

So the question with regard to the Willingham case isn't whether Mr. Vasquez acted negligently or in bad faith when conducting his investigation or rendering his opinion; the question is whether the his opinion was based on a valid scientific theory. And that is what the Texas Forensic Science Commission needs to focus on instead of covering up the truth in order to keep Rick Perry from having to get a real job.

And this is what Mr. John Bradley doesn't understand. To Mr. Bradley the question of whether scientific evidence is admissible comes down to whether or not the evidence is beneficial to the state's case, not whether the evidence is based on solid science.

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