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  • Writer's pictureArjun Gananathan

Forensics applied to Dershowitz’s pre-trial fact findings and to the content of his cases

Litigators often describe the process of discovering, scrutinising, and investigating the facts of a case as a “forensic” process. While the term has certainly adopted its own distinctive meaning in legalese, it derives uniquely from science. When Alan Dershowitz first began teaching at Harvard Law School, he was nicknamed the “and” professor. The courses that he designed and taught always featured the word “and” in their titles: “Law and Psychology,” “Law and Medicine,” “Law and Mathematics,” “Law and Probabilities.” Dershowitz explains that in his study of the law, and in his evolution as an advocate, he became an expert in the “and.” As one can clearly determine from the examples listed above, this “and” was science. To Alan Dershowitz, “forensic” did not just apply illustratively to his pre-trial fact-finding process, but literally, to the content of his cases too.

Dershowitz attributes much of his success in criminal trial work to his superlative knowledge and utilisation of science. Many of his greatest victories in the courtroom hinged on his ability to disprove murder cases with scientific evidence. In 1979, Dershowitz successfully defended Claus von Bülow against charges of murder, by demonstrating that the alleged victim, Bülow’s wife, had died from an overdose of barbiturates and reactive hypoglycemia, and not from injections of insulin. Two decades later, using expert testimony from a professor of pathology, Dershowitz was able to prove that a mark on the chest of presumed murder victim Ted Binion, was merely a pre-existing birthmark, rather than evidence of asphyxiation via forceful chest compression, as had been earlier claimed.

Dershowitz’s most publicised case, and arguably America’s most contentious criminal trial ever – the murder trial of OJ Simpson – was also settled by scientific evidence. An important piece of evidence under scrutiny was a sock that the accused murderer, Simpson, was wearing at the time of the murder. The prosecution had noted that the blood of both the victim, Simpson’s wife, and the blood of Simpson, was found on the sock. However, using blood-splatter analysis, Dershowitz and the rest of Simpson’s legal team were able to prove that the blood was poured on the sock in a manner that was inconsistent with the murder. Other scientific testimony was used to support the defense’s claim that evidence was compromised and mishandled during collection and analysis. The defense, aided by Dershowitz, convinced the jury of the inadmissibility of crucial evidence, thereby acquitting Simpson.

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