“Scientific evidence really nails this man to the wall,” the Harris County, Texas, prosecutor said at the trial of George Rodriguez. The alternative suspect identified by the defense, a man named Isidro Yanez, “could not have committed the offense.” It was beyond doubt. The jury convicted Rodriguez, and he was sentenced to sixty years in prison.

Two decades later the faulty scientific evidence in his case would help bring down the entire Houston police crime laboratory and call into question the very model of the modern crime lab: a relatively new institution that has fundamentally changed how science is used in American courtrooms. Heroic depictions of crime labs in mass media, and in ever-popular forensic dramas from CSI to Crime Scene to Bones, attract millions of viewers, but, as Rodriguez’s story shows, reality is far less appealing.

Brandon L. Garrett, The Genetic Panopticon (reviewing Sandra Guerra Thompson et al.; Erin E. Murphy; and Adam Benforado, Cops in Lab Coats: Curbing Wrongful Convictions through Independent Forensic Laboratories; Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA; and Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice) Boston Review (2016).