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Science Has Provided Important Tools in Exonerating the Innocent

Science now occupies a role far more important within our legal system than it used to be. One of the common forms of scientific evidence utilized in criminal cases today is in the form of DNA testing.

For several decades, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld have been leaders within our profession in promoting the use of science to exonerate the accused. Scheck & Neufeld founded the Innocence Project, and are renowned for their success in utilizing science to defend those who are unjustly accused. Many are unaware that Scheck & Neufeld were trained by mathematician and molecular biologist Eric Lander, who educated Scheck & Neufeld about the important properties of the human genome, and how forensic science can be used to pave the way to freedom for those wrongfully accused of crimes.

The Innocence Project, and other similar organizations, have succeeded at exonerating hundreds of unjustly accused prisoners, some of them after serving many years behind bars. Some of the exonerations accomplished by the Innocence Project involved overturning death sentences. Many of us in the legal community regard Scheck & Neufeld as heroes. We also must acknowledge the important work that scientists such as Eric Lander contributed to the cause.

Trump’s presidency was marked by a singular disdain for all forms of science. The COVID catastrophe and disregard for climate science are but two examples of the former administration’s failure to employ scientific principles into public policy. Fortunately, with President Biden now in the Oval Office, belief in science has been restored to the highest levels of government.

President Biden’s decision to bring science back to government presents an opportunity to strengthen the use of science in the courtroom for past, ongoing, and future cases. Scientists such as Lander and heroes such as Scheck & Neufeld will continue to fight for innocent citizens incarcerated within our deeply flawed legal system, and those facing trial can receive peace of mind knowing that science is now being accessed to achieve their freedom.

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