Forensic Science Group
The 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” concluded, “Lawyers and judges often have insufficient training and background in scientific methodology, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the reliability of forensic science evidence that is offered in trial.
Such training is essential, because any checklist for the admissibility of scientific or technical testimony is imperfect. Conformance with items on a checklist can suggest that testimony is reliable, but it does not guarantee it. Better connections must be established and promoted between experts in the forensic science disciplines and law schools, legal scholars, and practitioners.
The fruits of any advances in the forensic science disciplines should be transferred directly to legal scholars and practitioners (including civil litigators, prosecutors, and criminal defense counsel), federal, state, and local legislators, members of the judiciary, and law enforcement officials, so that appropriate adjustments can be made in criminal and civil laws and procedures, model jury instructions, law enforcement practices, litigation strategies, and judicial decision making.
Vincent Rust and Colleen Taylor, the Forensic Sciences Practice Group coordinators, are seeking to correct the deficits the NAS report identifies by promoting effective, creative advocacy in cases involving forensic science. Their work involves: 1) networking with lawyers and scientists throughout the country to learn of the available forensic resources and making that information available; 2) training staff; and 3) consulting on cases throughout the state.
The Forensic Science Practice Group has:
Met with top scientists and lawyers in the U.S. and Canada about creating an innovative forensic practice website that allows for an accessible and practical way to share resources and provide general guidance to staff attorneys and private bar attorneys who take Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office (SPD) appointments.
Developed training curriculum and materials to assist staff attorneys and the private bar with forensic issues.
Met with organizations, such as the Wisconsin Innocence Project, to find ways to work collaboratively, and at no added cost to the SPD, through grants, awards, etc., to train staff attorneys on sophisticated types of DNA testing and/or other forensic issues
Assisted staff attorneys with Daubert challenges, cross examination of expert witnesses at trial, discovery demands, and finding qualified experts.
Vincent and Colleen look forward to continuing with these efforts and discovering how other public defense agencies approach the problem of defending cases involving forensic science and scientific experts.
Forensic Science Practice Group Coordinators
Vincent Rust is an Assistant State Public Defender and Forensic Science Practice Coordinator at the SPD. As a Forensic Science Practice Coordinator, Vincent provides consultation and trial assistance to attorneys regarding forensic issues, coordinates agency interaction with forensic experts, works with the SPD Training Division in providing forensic training for attorneys and investigators, and helps maintain the SPD Forensics website. As an attorney and Asst. State Public Defender in LaCrosse County, Vincent represents clients in all types of criminal cases, from misdemeanor to intentional homicide cases, as well as Chapter 980 cases (Wisconsin's Sexually Violent Person Involuntary Commitment Law).
Colleen Taylor is an Assistant State Public Defender and Forensic Science Practice Group Coordinator at the SPD in the Milwaukee Trial Office. Colleen represents clients in a variety of cases, but primarily sex offenses and homicides. She graduated in 2017 from Case Western Reserve with her JD, writing her note on transgender clients in prisons. In 2014 she graduated from Ohio University with her BA and MA in Political Science.