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An Interview with Amelia Shooter, Scholar-in-Residence at the Law Library of Congress

Describe your background.

I am originally from Nottingham, U.K., but moved to Oxfordshire last year. I have moved several times around the country, having spent a considerable length of time both working and studying in Leeds, Yorkshire.

Amelia Shooter, photo by Donna Sokol

Amelia Shooter, photo by Donna Sokol

In 2016, I started my Ph.D. studies at Birmingham City University’s Centre for Law, Science and Policy. My research is examining the ways in which judges balance potential conflicts of law and science in U.S. criminal cases, through the lens of six reports published by the National Academy of Sciences.

What is your academic/professional history?

I received my LL.B. in Law and French from the University of Leeds in 2014. Whilst at Leeds, I participated in the Erasmus study abroad program, and spent a year studying French law at Université Toulouse 1 Capitole. I also became a member of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, and served as project manager for the academic year 2013/14. It was during my time managing the University of Leeds Innocence Project that I first became fascinated in the relationship between criminal law and forensic science.

Upon graduating from Leeds, I moved back to Nottingham to obtain my LL.M. I graduated in 2015 from the University of Nottingham, with an LL.M. specializing in human rights. I then spent a year working in local government, before returning to education to start studying for my Ph.D. at Birmingham City University.

Since joining Birmingham City University, I have become an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and am teaching English criminal Law, having previously also taught on the English Legal System module.

How would you describe your job (or research project) to other people?

My doctoral research looks at the ways in which judges understand and interpret forensic evidence in criminal cases. All the glamour of CSI isn’t quite as clear-cut in real life, and judges need to make decisions on forensic science in an imperfect world. Because this is such a massive area, I am looking at the influence that the National Academy of Sciences has had on judicial decision-making in this area. 

The National Academy of Sciences’ research branch, the National Research Council, published six reports between 1992 and 2009 evaluating the science underpinning a variety of forensic science techniques. The techniques reviewed by the National Research Council are forensic DNA (1992, 1996), polygraph evidence (2003), bullet-lead analysis (2004), firearm and ballistic evidence (2008), and pattern/impression evidence, including techniques such as fingerprints and bite marks (2009).

All of the techniques found in these reports have been presented as evidence in criminal cases, and these reports have been used by judges to determine the value of this evidence. My research is examining the ways that appellate judges have engaged with these reports over the last twenty-five years.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

My Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Sarah Cooper, undertook a residency at the Law Library last year. She returned with so much enthusiasm about the wonderful resources available to researchers here. This inspired me to carry out my own research at the Law Library, and benefit from the Law Library’s specialist resources, expertise, and environment. Taking up the opportunity to work at the Law Library has both enriched my research and benefited my research skills. In addition, the heart of my work really resides in Washington D.C., being the city at the center of US government, and the home of the National Academy of Sciences.

 What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library of Congress?

That every single artistic detail in the beautiful Great Hall of the Jefferson Building has a different meaning. The symbolism in the art and architecture is astounding and utterly mesmerizing.

 What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

Very few people know, but as an undergraduate, I spent a summer working in Lyon, France. I had such a wonderful time, and fell in love with the city. However, I have never been back, for fear of shattering my illusion of Lyon being a perfect city.

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