Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rennie Gibbs; Radley Balko on yet another Mississippi outrage - and the role played by an expert witness "who has shown that he’s willing to give preposterous testimony that is unsupported by science" - medical examiner Steven Hayne.

COMMENTARY: "Another Mississippi outrage: Young mother faces life in prison for stillborn child," by Radley Balko, published  on March 19, 2014, in his column "The Watch" by the Washington Post;

GIST: "When babies die in Mississippi, the state’s prosecutors seem particularly determined to see that someone goes to prison for it, even if there isn’t much evidence of a crime. In the past, more often than not, they would turn to Hayne. Currently, two men sit on Mississippi’s death row due almost exclusively to testimony from Steven Hayne — Jeffrey Havard and Devin Bennett. In both cases, other medical examiners have since questioned the quality of Hayne’s autopsies and the credibility of his testimony in court.........As for “inherent  unreliability,” I’d submit that when an expert witness has shown that he’s willing to give preposterous testimony that is unsupported by science, when he has spent most of his career working with a proven fraud like Michael West (including co-authoring articles on forensic analysis), when multiple defendants convicted because of his testimony have since been exonorated or acquitted, and when he has admitted to lying about his credentials, not only should his expertise be questioned in cases where his testimony in and of itself is absurd, his opinions should also be dismissed in those cases where they aren’t entirely implausible, or in instances where he was contradicted by a medical examiner who doesn’t have his baggage. In other words, Hayne shouldn’t be treated as just another expert. When someone’s freedom or life is on the line, his disagreements with qualified medical examiners shouldn’t be viewed as an honest disagreement between two credible professionals, but as a disagreement between a credible professional and a man whose history provides little reason to afford him the presumption of integrity. Even if Hayne were right about what killed Rennia Gibbs’ daughter, the Mississippi law that allows prosecutors to charge women with murder for having miscarriages or delivering stillborn babies is abominable. But in this case, the unjustness of the law is compounded by the way Allgood is attempting to enforce it. As Martin points out in her article, specialists with far more credibility and expertise than Hayne have since criticized his diagnosis. The law itself needs to be repealed. But this case is also another desperate cry for Mississippi to take a thorough inventory of the damage Hayne, West, Allgood and their contemporaries may have done to the state’s criminal justice system."

The entire commentary can be found at:

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