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Federal judge to deliver annual Pedrick Lecture


March 26, 2009

The Honorable Harry T. Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge and Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, will deliver the 13th Annual Willard H. Pedrick Lecture on April 3 at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Judge Edwards' talk, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward," will begin at 1 p.m. in the College of Law's Great Hall. Free and open to the public, the lecture is being held in conjunction with the College's international conference, "Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond," April 3-4.

"Judge Edwards is one of the most important judges of his generation, and we are honored to have him deliver the annual Pedrick Lecture," said Dean Paul Schiff Berman.

Judge Edwards co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences' Forensic Science Committee, which recently issued a comprehensive report that calls for an overhaul of the nation's forensic science system. The report is the centerpiece of the College's conference which, in addition to Judge Edwards, will present nearly three dozen leading scholars of forensic science, criminalistics and scientific evidence in lectures and on panels.

Among the committee's recommendations: mandatory accreditation and independence of crime labs, substantial research into the validity and reliability of forensic science methods, improved training for workers in the field and establishment of an independent federal agency to manage the system.

"The work of the forensic science community is critically important in our system of criminal justice," Judge Edwards said. "The goal of law enforcement actions is to identify those who have committed crimes and to prevent the system from erroneously convicting the innocent."

And because forensic science experts and evidence routinely are used in the criminal justice system, "It matters a great deal whether an expert is qualified to testify about forensic evidence and whether the evidence is sufficiently reliable to merit a fact finder's reliance on the truth that it purports to support," he said. "As one commentator has recently noted, `When flawed or false forensic evidence makes its way into the courtroom, the integrity of the entire criminal justice system is called into question.'"

Since its release on Feb. 18, the report received widespread media interest, and has been the subject of two Congressional hearings, in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and in the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

"The report has received serious attention, which is gratifying because the problems that it addresses are so serious," Judge Edwards said.

The work performed by the scores of talented and dedicated people in the forensic science community is very important, he said, but their efforts often are strapped due to a "paucity of strong scientific research, a lack of adequate resources and national support, and the absence of unified and meaningful regulation of crime laboratories and practitioners."

Existing data indicate forensic laboratories and medical-examiner offices are understaffed and lacking resources, which contributes to case backlogs, he said.

"This likely makes it difficult for laboratories to do as much as they could to inform investigations, provide strong evidence for prosecutions, and avoid errors that could lead to imperfect justice," Justice Edwards said. "Being under-resourced also means that the tools of forensic science - and the knowledge base that underpins the analysis and interpretation of the evidence - are not as strong as they could be, thus hindering the ability of the forensic science disciplines to excel at information investigations, providing strong evidence and minimizing errors."

The Willard H. Pedrick Lecture was established in 1997 by the Pedrick family in memory of the founding dean of the College of Law. The lecture brings to the law school outstanding legal scholars, jurists and practitioners to enrich the intellectual life of the College and the community.

To RSVP, e-mail Amanda.Breaux@asu.edu or call (480) 965-6405. For more information about the conference, which is presented by the College of Law's Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology and co-sponsored by The National Judicial College and the American Bar Association's sections on Science & Technology Law and Criminal Justice, or to register, go to http://LST.law.asu.edu.

Janie Magruder, Jane.Magruder@asu.edu
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law