Speed Reads


John Oliver takes the law into his own hands to fight junk forensic 'science,' since Trump won't

"On TV and in real life, forensic science plays an important role in criminal convictions," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, but not all forensic science is as reliable as we've been led to believe by TV shows. Jurors don't always know that, but they expect forensic proof — what prosecutors call the "CSI effect." Since Oliver had a lot of potential jurors watching, he took a few minutes to educate, entertainingly.

"It's not that all forensic science is bad, because it's not," Oliver said. But there are serious documented problems with bite-mark and hair analysis, and some people convicted on such evidence have been executed. More sound forensic sciences like fingerprint and DNA analysis are "by no means infallible," either, he said, giving some examples. And since judges allow evidence based on precedence, not science, "decisions about the validity of science are being made by people who don't necessarily know much about it," he noted.

Finally, some forensic labs are pretty tight with law enforcement, letting bias creep in. "They are supposed to be neutral," not part of the "team" getting bad guys, Oliver said. "If a referee started participating in a team's end-zone celebration, you'd have some serious f---ing questions." He gave a surprise shout-out to Texas for leading the way on quashing "junk" evidence, and said there is a National Commission on Forensic Science that was set up to advise the Justice Department on how to avoid bad science, or was — Attorney General Jeff Sessions shut it down in April. "We may honestly be actively going backwards on this issue," making it likely that innocent people will be locked up and dangerous criminals allowed to roam free, Oliver said, and if the Trump administration won't help, he had a different kind of CSI clip for potential jurors (it has some NSFW language). Watch below. Peter Weber