Image via WikipediaA recent New York Law Journal article discussed the important issue of defense access to computer data in "Database Access and the Defense." In it, the author, Ken Strutin asserts that evidence obtained from computer profiling and databases should be available to the defense and requires extensive judicial scrutiny before it reaches a jury. In support of his argument, he argues that a lot of computer-based data is less reliable than it seems, often including coding errors, and yet jurors are typically more likely to assume that this "scientific" data is fool proof. Examples of computer and scientific data that have been called into question include: 1) the source code for breathalyzers 2) poorly calibrated breathalyzer equipment 3) fingerprint databases, such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System 4) DNA databases and 5) Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) databases. The importance of access to these databases during pre-trial discovery is imperative in order for criminal defense attorneys to mount a strong defense on behalf of their clients. The reason for this is simple: errors have been found, sometimes long after the accused has been imprisoned. Or, as aptly explained in the article:
"Certainty" is the bell that cannot be unrung, which is why in the light of re-evaluated forensic matching techniques, expert conclusions claiming "scientific certainty" are being carefully scrutinized.[FOOTNOTE 10]
Evidence drawn from computer profiling and database analyses deserves a long, hard look before reaching a jury. Legislatures and courts ought to uniformly recognize the essential right of the accused to contest computer-based identification or to access these resources to prepare a defense.
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