What happens when an expert witness whom originally stated that bite marks discovered on a victim were indeed inflicted by the defendant changes his “opinion” years later?
One might think that if such a situation were to result, at a minimum, there would be cause for retrial. Unfortunately for the defendant locked away in state prison, this was not how the matter turned out.
Here is the California Supreme Court’s ruling in a divided decision, which resulted in the same outcome as the original trial.
Question: Was justice served in this matter? Four experts agreed that the original bite makes could not be linked to the defendant. What is the appropriate course in such situations?
Eyewitness testimony is a hot topic of discussion in legal enforcement circles, as well as amongst forensic psychologists. Proponents argue that changes to the current system of police line-ups are not only easy to adopt and more reliable, but are also inexpensive to use. Regardless, many police forces and prosecutors are reluctant to the impending procedural changes.
Below is a recent report demonstrating the importance of making changes to a system that many feel is inadequate:
Question: Change in any institution is always difficult. Yet in this instance, it seems that the time has come. Do you feel there is a need to adopt a new procedure, or does the current practice tend to hold up in court?
In a story published on November 2, 2012, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (http://tinyurl.com/axdq66g), the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state may indefinitely keep record of DNA profiles. In a particular case, a defendant tried, unsuccessfully, to argue that DNA evidence used against him violated the 4th Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The court ruled that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her DNA profile extracted from a lawfully obtained DNA sample, and a defendant lacks standing to object to its use by the state in a subsequent criminal investigation.
Questions: Does this ruling encroach on a person’s privacy rights? Some argue that the government keeps expanding the use of forensic DNA testing. That said, are there limits to what is reasonable or acceptable?
Recent news reported a case of forensic practitioner malfeasance. A chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory is alleged to have falsified drug tests and reported out fraudulent test results. While it is unclear how long this malpractice had been going on, or just how many cases were affected, it has placed all the employed chemists’ work in question, and also, obviously, jeopardized thousands of cases.
The chemist was arrested and will eventually be tried for her actions, though the question remains: how can these situations be avoided? What sort of quality assurance program could be adopted to prevent such acts, be they purposely planned of not?
Further Questions: Is the analyst alone at fault, or is the organization, under which the laboratory operates, to blame as well? What precautionary steps could a laboratory take to prevent such cases from occurring in the future?
I recently attended an annual seminar hosted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney, The 11th Annual DNA Awareness Educational Forum. One of the presentations was entitled Dead Man Talking: Secrets Revealed Through DNA.
Speakers raised an interesting issue. Currently, there are thousands of unsolved rapes and murders where DNA was found and added to the CODIS DNA database, though without a hit. A “no hit” entry could mean several things, such as the perpetrator was never arrested for any felony and is still at large, or perhaps he had died in prison without ever having his DNA collected.
Two district attorney offices in California (Los Angeles and Sacramento) have started a program to look into records of deceased inmates to see if DNA samples might be available to search in CODISDNA and clear some of these unsolved cases. At the moment, they are combing through old records to determine if DNA can be collected off of envelopes from saliva and other evidence that had never before been examined for crimes in which a dead inmate was involved. They have not yet exhumed any bodies as this is still under consideration.
Question: Who owns the DNA of dead convicted felons? Is the cost justified to search for DNA from dead convicts to clear cases?
Forensic Science Policy & Management editor Max M. Houck was recently mentioned in The Washington Post in an article entitled ‘Women at forefront of booming forensic science field‘ . Read the article today!
For further reading, take a look at the Forensic Science Policy & Management article “Is Forensic Science a Gateway for Women in Science?” for FREE!
In our last posting, we reported on a news story about the Michigan State Police and their accreditation. We are pleased to report that the MSP lab system has been granted reaccreditation. Though, that case prompts another question: (continue reading…)
On July 6, 2012, Detroit News reported that the Michigan State Police crime lab system had problems with its accreditation. A number of criteria needed to be addressed before the labs could be reaccredited. For more information, click here: http://t.co/mAPMnhfA.
Defense attorneys often talk about transparency, such as whether labs should disclose all aspects of their operations to the courts, including the defense bar.
Question: To what extent, and why, should public crime laboratories report operational problems to the prosecution and defense bars? Do such issues constitute Brady material of which prosecutors should inform the defense? Further, should defense lawyers specifically ask for such information in discovery?
The Washington Post Editorial dated April 20, 2012, concerning the disclosure of exculpatory forensic evidence in criminal cases raises some interesting questions. (continue reading…)
Trial judges serve as “gate keepers” and determine whether expert testimony is admissible. They do so by applying rules set up in opinions handed down from prior cases, such as Daubert. One criteria is error rate, a test of the reliability of the techniques proffered to the trier of fact. (continue reading…)