When life and liberty are at risk, the stakes of proving innocence are high.
Barry Scheck, an American defense lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, gave a speech last night at Irvine Auditorium titled “Science, Uncertainty, and Finality: The Impact of the Innocence Movement on Forensic Cognition and Proof.”
In his talk, he highlighted issues of legitimacy, scientific evidence-based claims and the “burden of proof” in American judicial systems. Held just one day after Martin Luther King Day, Scheck reminded the audience of the civil rights leader’s famous quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The University’s theme for the 2012-2013 academic year — the “Year of Proof” — brought Scheck as a speaker in order to explore the question of “What is truth?” and what that question means in today’s judicial system.
Scheck is nationally known for his participation in O.J. Simpson’s defense team in the 1990s as well as the Innocence Project, which he co-founded in 1992 with lawyer Peter Neufeld. The project was created to protect the innocent and improve the capability of law enforcement agencies with scientific evidence and proof.
The first DNA exoneration was seen in 1989, and since then there have been 301 more people proven innocent. Scheck’s line of work is explicitly truth-seeking and non-ideological, and seeks out ways to correct injustice.
Introducing Scheck, Provost Vincent Price said, “The nature of proof is complex… in criminal law the stakes are high.”
Citing the number of “unjust convictions” in the country, Price lauded the Innocence Project’s levelheaded dedication to civil rights and constitutional litigation.
Scheck told the audience frankly that with every judicial case there must be humility and courage involved in order to avoid cognitive bias — the tendency to make sometimes innaccurate assumptions in a criminal case.
“Nobody has a zero error rate,” which, he added, is scientifically implausible.
The complexities of truth and proof are particularly complex when it comes to the persons and family members involved in a judicial case.
Following Scheck’s example, College senior Ali Derassouyan shared her reasons for attending this lecture.
“I am a criminology major and my career interests are in forensic science and psychology,” Derassouyan said. “Over the summer, I worked with youths who were incarcerated. Proving innocence with DNA testing is important to me because I’ve seen firsthand how it affects people and their families.”
Other audience members attended because of recommendations from their professors or emails they were sent from the University. College freshman Peter Bryan had previously seen Scheck on the news show “60 Minutes” and decided to see the renowned lawyer for himself.
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