Willkie Assists the Innocence Project in Challenging the Admissibility of ‘Junk Science’ in Criminal Cases in Georgia

April 2, 2019

The Willkie team presented a model brief at a recent conference focused on strategies to combat the use of junk science, which attendees were encouraged to use.

Willkie partner James C. Dugan recently participated as a featured speaker in a conference in Atlanta, GA, sponsored by the Innocence Project, the National Criminal Defense Conference, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Georgia Public Defender Council. The conference focused on strategies to combat the use of “junk science” — forensic evidence of questionable scientific validity — by the prosecution in criminal cases in Georgia, and was attended by over 100 public defenders and criminal defense counsel.

In conjunction with the Innocence Project, a team at Willkie participated in drafting a model brief challenging Georgia’s permissive statute governing the admissibility of forensic evidence in criminal proceedings, which provides that such evidence “shall always be admissible.” This stands in stark contrast to the admissibility of expert evidence in civil proceedings in Georgia, which is governed by the much more rigorous Daubert standard. The model brief drafted by Willkie, which conference attendees were encouraged to file when challenging the use of forensic experts in criminal cases, argues that the dual standard violates the substantive and procedural due process rights of criminal defendants as well as the equal protection clause of the U.S. and Georgia constitutions. Since the conference took place, the Georgia Public Defender has already successfully used a version of the model brief to curtail the admissibility of toolmark (firearms) evidence in a criminal case.

The Willkie team that worked on this project included partner James C. Dugan, associate Gabrielle Antonello, and law clerks Astrid Rocha and Anthony Rydelek.