Courts Resist Revisiting “Junk Science” Convictions
Monday, April 25, 2011
HOUSTON - After a forensic psychologist was banned this month from making retardation evaluations in Texas courts, defense attorneys hoped to reopen past convictions that used his now-discredited testimony. But with courts extremely wary of revisiting any closed case, it may take legislative action to force them to bend to scientific consensus.
Current law allows for re-reviewing cases when DNA evidence might change the outcome. Kathryn Kase, a death-penalty lawyer who directs the Trial Project at the Texas Defender Service, supports legislation that would apply to additional types of evidence.
"We need to extend the law, so that changes in science, or the practice of shoddy science, allows a person to go back and seek re-testing and re-review."
A bill pending in the state House goes half-way, says Kase, who wants it amended to not only incorporate current science, but also the problem of "junk science."
The banned psychologist, George Denkowski, provided testimony that helped convict at least 14 prisoners on death row, who he claimed had normal intelligence. Kase is convinced that at least some of them are, in fact, mentally retarded. Executing the mentally retarded has been forbidden since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002.
Kase says, in matters of life and death, there's no room for casual, sloppy, or fraudulent science.
"If I went to a doctor and got tested to find out if I had cancer, and then I later found out that that doctor wasn't doing the cancer tests at all, would I go back to another doctor and get retested? You bet I would!"
Peer reviews said Denkowski, in effect, made up his own criteria, including inflating some IQ scores because traditional testing supposedly didn't account for culture, lifestyle, and race. Denkowski agreed to abandon his courtroom practice in a settlement that stated his violations could not be used as the basis for re-litigating other criminal cases for which he'd served as an expert.
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