"There is nothing more terrifying for a defense attorney and more destructive to our system of criminal justice, than for a factually innocent person to be accused and convicted of a crime that was never a crime in the first place. Our criminal justice system is destined for collapse if the confidence of the public in the outcomes of the criminal cases we adjudicate is eroded because of shoddy science. We simply cannot afford for that to happen."
John S. Digiacinto
San Mateo County Private Defender Program
An unknown number of people are languishing in America’s prisons on wrongful arson convictions. Nationwide, 5405 people were in prison for arson in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available (Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Corrections Reporting Program). In addition to the usual factors that are known to lead to wrongful convictions (forced confessions, jailhouse informants, unreliable eye-witness testimony), arson cases are often based on unique types of forensic evidence which are presented as irrefutable science, but in fact have never been tested or have already been proven to be unreliable.
Our mission is to objectively examine the reliability of arson evidence, research convictions that have relied on that evidence, and to educate and inform the criminal justice and fire investigation communities in an effort to eliminate wrongful convictions. Through live fire and other research the Arson Research Project will serve as a foundational resource to promote further study and determine the reliability of arson evidence.