Wrongful Conviction and Forensic Pathology (May 2017)

SPEAKER: Michael S. Pollanen MD PhD
Chief Forensic Pathologist, Ontario Forensic Pathology Service


Most wrongful convictions are due to systemic failures in the criminal justice system. An important subset of reversible wrongful conviction are the cases related to flawed medical/scientific evidence. One of the best studied examples is the technological advancement that supplanted comparison hair microscopy with mitochondrial DNA analysis. Interestingly, medical and scientific evidence can both facilitate wrong convictions and correct the error. In recent years, forensic pathology has emerged as a discipline that has both contributed to wrongful conviction and also results in exoneration of the innocent. This realization has fuelled the growth and development of forensic pathology to seek a more scientific foundation. However, when compared to forensic science, the advancements have not relied heavily on technology. The advancements have come through the more systemic empirical inquiry in individual cases, adherence to evidence-based practice, and more balanced oral testimony in court. Systemic solutions have included institutionalized postgraduate training programs, peer review, and growing research capacity alongside of the service provision. Forensic pathology has entered a new phase modern development that will transform how it is used by the criminal justice system.