As long-standing forensic scientists formerly in the government forensic laboratory but now in private practice, we have received remarks that we have “gone to the dark side”. Though this remark may have been said in jest, the negative sentiment behind it may result in a misperception that thwarts science and justice. There appears to be a lingering misperception that providing forensic expertise to the defence is synonymous with the “dark side”, while the prosecution expert witness is deemed to be fair and just, i.e. on the “bright side”. This is far from the TRUTH. Such blinkered thinking may colour the evaluation of forensic findings by the legal practitioner and the general public.
As expert witnesses, we are given the privilege albeit heavy responsibility to express expert opinions in our area of specialisation to assist in resolving legal matters. Unlike the prosecutor and defence counsel in an adversarial proceeding who each supports a position, forensic science does not have an advocacy role. Simply put, there are no sides in forensic science. It does not matter which party engages us; the only thing that matters is whether our expertise can assist in the pursuit of truth. Forensic science must remain non-partisan, impartial and independent.
The science we apply must not be subverted or turned aside to further an unjust cause. There is no room for bias or allegiance to the client. Science follows the path determined by facts. Oft-repeated aphorisms are “Let the chips fall where they may” and “Let the evidence speak for itself”. In other words, evidence and science must lead the scientist; not the other way around. Using the scientific method, scientists glean information and data of an incident or crime in a methodical and systematic manner to draw balanced and reliable conclusions, based on evidence and objective analysis. The expert’s findings and opinions will therefore be the same, regardless of which party engages him or her.
Experts answer neither to prosecution nor defence, but to the Courts. Many forensic scientists abide by this ethos and do their utmost to ensure that their work adheres to the highest of standards. Echoing the words of Betty DesPortes, we believe in the power of science to illuminate the truth, balance the scale of justice, and give meaning to the promise “The truth shall set you free.” We believe that bias and mistakes on the part of the expert are too much to bear due to the dire consequences of causing injustice or a wrongful conviction.
The dynamic, complex landscape we navigate in – where the whole truth is difficult to discern, requires forensic scientists to take on a wider role. Besides engaging our peers in scientific communities, we must now embrace the need to communicate with the legal fraternity and the public at large on the application of forensic science and its vital role in the justice system. It is our responsibility to address and correct misperceptions that may exist or arise as we discharge our duties in the administration of justice.
In our opinion, the “dark side” and the “bright side” do not refer to which party a forensic scientist works with – be it prosecution or defence, but to whether or not the forensic scientist has performed an impartial, objective analysis, and reported conclusions that are true and faithful to the evidence, free from influence, bias and errors.
 B.L DesPortes, J. Forensic Sci., January 2018, Vol. 63, No. 1.