A wide range of cases raise novel scientific issues, which judges can struggle to resolve. One way to provide courts with independent information and insight regarding complex scientific issues is through the filing friend of the court, or amicus curiae briefs. The purpose of the Amicus Lab is to teach students about the use of emerging science and technology in the courts through the drafting and submission of such amicus briefs. We will submit a number of amicus briefs to state and federal appellate courts and the US Supreme Court, in cases where independent expert views could play a useful role. These amicus briefs will be unaligned with any party and are intended to provide the court with unbiased, current, and coherent information about the scientific issue in the case.
Our cases for Fall 2019 include:
Garner v. Colorado. We have already filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of cert. If cert. is granted, we will work this Fall on a merits amicus brief. Defendant-Petitioner James Joseph Garner was identified in court by eyewitnesses while he sat at counsel’s table with his two female defense attorneys, readily identifiable as the defendant in the relevant proceedings. The evidence against Garner consisted entirely of testimony by the three eyewitnesses, each of whom had earlier failed to identify Garner from a photo array, and instead identified Garner for the first time in court. We argue that the Colorado Supreme Court ruling affirming the use of this evidence, neglected the central rationale for carefully scrutinizing suspect identification procedures—their manifest unreliability.
Bryan v. State. This case is pending before the Texas and involves blood-spatter analysis. Bryan was twice convicted of murder of his wife, largely based on forensic evidence. The forensic expert has admitted that his conclusions were wrong. Our brief will detail the scientific flaws in the blood spatter testimony at Bryan’s trials and the problems with the use of such methods. Propublica has published an in-depth series, “Blood will Tell,” on this case.
Penuelas v. State. This case, on appeal before the California Supreme Court, involves a challenge to a dog sniff identification. After the defendant had been interrogated for several hours, detectives walked him outside to create a path with his scent. At the end of this trail, he and the Detective sat at a picnic table. When the dog reached the table, she stopped trailing and jumped up near Penuelas, ostensibly identifying him as the killer. This type of dog scent procedure – known as a station identification – has been criticized as a scientifically untested, unreliable, and used by only a few outlier police agencies.
Parks v. State. This North Carolina case appeals pathologist testimony regarding blood observed at a the defendant’s home. The examiner testified, speculating based on photographs and no research or examination, that the blood stain indicated that a death occurred there. The Court, in conducting a Daubert review, asked the expert whether the testimony was “based on any type of peer review authorized formulas, extrapolations or anything that can be objectively quantified and tested” and the expert agreed it was not. The expert explained she “did the test of thinking about this case.”
We will meet weekly at a time convenient for all of the students in the lab. Students will initially focus upon the preparation of background memoranda on the selected scientific issues. These memoranda will be used to develop draft amicus briefs over the course of the semester. No scientific background is required, but it would be helpful, as would the basic Evidence course.
|Course Areas of Practice|
Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law
Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context
Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system