“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” recently won its second straight Emmy for Best Variety Talk Series, but on its October 1 episode John Oliver took on a staple of the TV industry: forensic science, which has fueled hit shows like “CSI,” “Bones,” and “Law & Order” in the 21st century. Oliver’s deep dive into forensics, though, is less interested in its dramatic effects on television than in its dramatic effects on real people’s lives. Watch it above.
“On TV and in real life, forensic science plays an important role in criminal convictions,” Oliver explains. “Prosecutors complain about a so-called ‘CSI Effect’ where jurors expect to see forensic evidence in every case. The problem is, not all forensic science is as reliable as we’ve become accustomed to believe … Too often its reliability is dangerously overstated.”
Oliver points to the real human cost of that misuse of science: “Among the hundreds of people who have been exonerated by DNA testing since 1989, in nearly half of their cases [45%] there was some misapplication of forensic science.” That includes Santae Tribble, who served 26 years for murder based on an analysis of hair found at the crime scene — but DNA later proved that none of the hair was his, and one hair sample actually came from a dog.
And it’s not just hair analysis that may have problems. There could also be flaws in the analysis of footprints, bite marks, and blood spatter — sorry Dexter. So Oliver decided to fight back using the language of TV by presenting a trailer for “CSI” starring Josh Charles as the title “Crime Scene Idiot” who pushes junk evidence while real scientists Samira Wiley, Josh Lucas, Shannon Woodward, and Robert John Burke do the real work.
Do they solve the case, or will an innocent golden retriever go down for a crime it didn’t commit? Watch above, and discuss this and more in our forums.