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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
ciated or accepted by many forensic science practitioners, judges, jurors, policymakers, or lawyers and their clients.5
THEFRYESTANDARD AND RULE 702 OF THEFEDERAL RULES OF EVIDENCE
During the twentieth century, as science advanced, the legal system “attempted to develop coherent tests for the admissibility of scientific evidence.”6 The first notable development occurred in 1923 with the issuance of the landmark decision in Frye v. United States.7 The Frye case involved a murder trial in which the defendant sought to demonstrate his innocence through the admission of a lie detector test that measured systolic blood pressure. The court rejected the evidence, stating:
Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrable stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and while courts will go a long way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well-recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.8
The Frye decision held that the lie detector test was unreliable because it had not gained “general acceptance” in the relevant scientific community. The meaning of the Frye test is elusive. Indeed, “[t]he merits of the Frye test have been much debated, and scholarship on its proper scope and application is legion.”9 For many years, the Frye test was cited in both civil and criminal cases, but it was applied most frequently in criminal cases.10 “In the 70 years since its formulation in the Frye case, the ‘general acceptance’
See 4 Faigman et al., op. cit., supra note 1, §29.3, p. 6 (“Few forensic scientists harbor serious misgivings about the expectation of good science on the part of their clients, be they the police, the prosecution, or the defense bar…. The clients want good science and the truth if it will help their case.”); S. Scarborough. 2005. They keep putting fingerprints in print. TheCACNews. California Association of Criminalists, 2nd Quarter. Available at www.cacnews.org/news/2ndq05.pdf, p. 19 (“As scientists we are confident that any ‘critic’ that tries to prove the fallibility of fingerprints will actually find the opposite. Just as we testify to everyday.”).
Developments in the law, supra note 2, p. 1486.
Frye v. United States, 54 App. D.C. 46, 293 F. 1013 (1923).
Ibid., p. 1014.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 586 & n.4 (1993) (citing authorities).
P.C. Giannelli. 1993. “Junk science”: The criminal cases. Journal of Criminal Law andCriminology 84:105, 111, and n.35.