Topics for discussion
So you want to be a forensic scientist. You regularly watch all the CSI shows, Law and Order, reality TV shows about the work that goes on in crime labs and decided: this is for me!
The jury handed down its verdict on the Casey Anthony trial last week. Ms. Anthony was charged with murdering her 2 year old daughter. The evidence suggested there was foul play, but the prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she murdered the child.
Some are comparing this case to the O.J. Simpson trial where another jury decided that the evidence was not strong enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And both defense teams did outstanding jobs to convince the jury that the prosecution did not sustain their burden.
Those who are shocked by this verdict might ponder the words of Benjamin Franklin who is quoted as saying: “that it is better [one hundred] guilty persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” That ultimately is the strength in our criminal justice system. We are willing to make difficult choices in the face of seemingly strong evidence. (continue reading…)
Familial DNA testing has solved some major cases in recent months. In a California case, a series of rape-murders remained unsolved until the authorities used familial DNA testing to locate the suspect. (continue reading…)
The call has sounded from many quarters: more research is needed in forensic science. The demand is especially strong for study in the area of so called “pattern evidence:” fingerprints, firearms, tool mark evidence, foot print, tire impression, bite make, handwriting, etc. (continue reading…)
Suppose terrorists mount coordinated attacks across the United States and abroad, intended to strike many targets at once. Or suppose there was a major earthquake or hurricane. Historically, the FBI, FEMA, and other Federal agencies provide assistance to local agencies in the aftermath of disasters. But what would happen if federal response resources were stretched thin and local and state jurisdictions were left on their own? (continue reading…)
Recently, a county District Attorney claimed that it was not up to the state forensic laboratory to determine what scientific examinations needed to be completed in a case but rather that it was the purview of the county’s prosecutors to make that assessment.
The National Academy of Sciences report issued in February 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, noted the need for a national code of ethics for forensic science. While most forensic science professional organizations have codes of ethics there is no universal set of ethical standards. Further compounding this issue is that membership in forensic science organizations, which have codes of ethics, is not a requirement for a job in a forensic science laboratory or to testify in court. (continue reading…)
Rule 702 of the US Federal Rules of Evidence, Testimony by Experts, states: (continue reading…)
In December, 2010, the U. K. announced the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) stating that the government no longer had an interest in funding forensic science laboratories. (continue reading…)
For the past few months, there has been significant publicity on a series of problems concerning the San Francisco Police Department crime laboratory. One of the lab’s employees allegedly pilfered small qualities of cocaine for personal use. The police investigated the theft and ultimately advised the District Attorney’s Office and ASCLD/LAB, the program under which the lab was accredited. Once the story broke, the defense bar has been able to have a significant number cases overturned as a result of this situation. This case raises a number of issues: What is the appropriate response to instances of malfeasance and moral turpitude? Whose responsibility is it to deal with these issues when they come to light and more specifically, what should be done? Can bad behavior be eliminated or minimized? Should oversight of forensic service providers be enacted into law?