Beth Bechky

Jacob B. Melnick Term Professor,
Professor of Management and Organizations,
Professor of Sociology,
Stern School of Business, New York University


The Spectre of Testimony:

Forensic Scientists as Advocates for the Evidence


This paper examines forensic scientists’ feelings about testifying, which reflect the underlying tensions created as they navigated the worlds of science and criminal justice simultaneously. While forensic scientists defined themselves as a scientific community, their work was evaluated with respect to its application in the criminal justice community. They struggled when confronted with the different norms of science and law, which led to some resentment of attorneys and ambivalence about their participation in the courtroom. More significantly, their identification as scientists (and with science) made them highly sensitive to the technical accuracy of their analysis, which often came into conflict with legal principles and practices for evidence. Moreover, as partial members of the community of criminal justice, forensic scientists felt a sense of isolation and exclusion from the process of testifying. Tracing how these tensions manifested in the specter of testifying helps us to understand the evaluation of expertise and the influence of emotion in institutional processes.