You are here

Arson Science Debunked After Decades of Misuse

The ABA Journal's Mark Hansen has a cover story about how two decades of research into the cause of fires has shown that many criminal defendants have been wrongfully convicted of arson-related crimes because of faulty evidence admitted against them. Arson expert John Lentini estimates that there may be a few hundred innocent people in prison for arson.

Arson cases are "particularly difficult to undo," Hansen reports. "Arson cases are not like typical murder or rape cases, where DNA evidence may still exist that not only can establish one’s innocence but also implicate another. In arson cases, evidence is usually consumed in the fire. And a fire investigator can rarely rule out arson as the cause of a blaze, which is often a requirement for overturning a conviction.

Justin McShane, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has won one man's freedom from allegedly killing his mentally ill daughter in a fire, said Pennsylvania and other states should follow the lead of Texas and California in allowing defendants to get new trials if the underlying forensic science used to convict them is shown to be flawed.