A University of Wisconsin Law School professor and Steven Avery’s former lawyers have begun a non-profit foundation dedicated to reforming how forensic science is used in the criminal-justice system.
Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey were convicted in 2005 in the slaying of the Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. Both are serving life sentences for that killing. They were the subject of a Netflix series called “Making a Murderer.”
The UW Law Professor Keith Findley, Madison attorney Dean Strang and Brookfield attorney Jerry Buting have been working on the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences for the past year. This week, the center’s website went live.
The Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences will be used to fight corruption in crime labs and ensure that valid forensic evidence is being used in court.
“In most states, including Wisconsin, judges are supposed to be the gatekeepers who keep out bogus, improper science from the courtrooms,” Buting said. “The reality is that a lot of people who become lawyers, frankly, aren’t that good at science. For some of them, that’s why they go into law. They hate math and science. And then they become judges and they’re no better at understanding science…”
Part of the motivation Findley, Strang and Buting had to form the Center for Integrity in Forensic Science came from the recent dissolution of the National Commission on Forensic Science. The commission, a federal advisory board composed of various participants in the criminal justice system, was charged with finding ways to improve standards for the use of forensic evidence.
“We realized that this is something that needed a private non-profit to focus on it,” said Buting. “After ‘Making a Murderer’ came out, Dean and I suddenly had this platform … where people were listening.”
The center will be holding its first symposium, titled “Where’s the Science in Forensic Science?,” on Nov. 15 at the St. Louis, Missouri-based Washington University School of Law.
The speakers enlisted for the symposium includes the Washington Post criminal justice reporter Radley Balko and New York attorney Peter Neufeld, a founder of the Innocence Project.
Next fall, the center will also begin a new clinical program at the UW Law School. The program will pair law students with graduate students in the sciences. It will also involve a partnership with UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, which is a research institute dedicated to developing new approaches to science through collaborations.
Buting said the non-profit organization’s work is not limited to Wisconsin and that he expects it to become an international project that pulls in work from scientists around the world.
“It’s important for both the defense and the prosecution and justice as a whole,” Buting said. “And the public’s faith in our justice system depends on reliable science.”Follow @erikastrebel