Category Archives: Forensic controls

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Dog Scent Lineups – “The Worst of Junk Science”

pointerIt was just a year ago that we posted about dog scent lineups.  At the time, we called it “one of the junkiest of the junk sciences.”  This opinion is echoed in a law suit filed just this week by a Texas woman, Megan Winfrey.  Ms. Winfrey spent 6 years in prison before her murder conviction, based on a dog scent lineup, was overturned.  Her suit calls dog scent lineups “the worst of junk science.”

Interestingly, the primary defendant in Winfrey’s suit is former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pickett.  Pickett was identified in our earlier post as being the most infamous and notorious dog handler performing bogus dog scent lineups.  Four other officers, including the San Jacinto County Sheriff, are also named in the suit as being complicit in her wrongful conviction.

You can read the NBC News story about the Winfrey suit here, which contains a link to the actual law suit.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Is forensic odontology too unreliable?
  • Exoneree Johnathan Montgomery takes it one day at a time
  • Missouri considers eyewitness identification reform and DNA preservation bill
  • Greg Wilhoit, a former Oklahoma death-row inmate from Tulsa and nationally-known anti-death penalty advocate whose story was included in author John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” died Feb. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., family members said. He was 59.  Full article here
  • Upcoming symposium at the Penn Quattrone Center:  A Systems Approach to Conviction Integrity

Interesting SCOTUS Forensics Case….

Today, in Hinton v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court found the trial attorney’s failure to request funding for a sufficient expert to challenge the State’s ballistics experts constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.  Opinion here.

Forensic Science Reform Bill Introduced in U.S. Congress

Press release:

Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman

For Immediate Release
http://commerce.senate.gov                                              Contact: Kevin McAlister, 202-224-8374
February 12, 2014

ROCKEFELLER INTRODUCES BILL TO ADVANCE FORENSIC SCIENCE REFORM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today reintroduced legislation to strengthen the criminal justice system, by prioritizing scientific research and supporting the development of science-based standards in the forensic disciplines.

Rockefeller’s bill, The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, aims to bolster forensic science reform efforts and to maintain long-term cooperation between scientists, the legal community, law enforcement, forensic practitioners, and advocacy groups.

“We’re making real progress toward strengthening forensic science, but more must be done,” said Rockefeller. “My bill would formalize collaboration between scientists and the criminal justice system, which is the only way to put our forensic evidence standards on a solid scientific footing. This important work will help convict the guilty and protect the innocent.”

The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 continues Rockefeller’s work from a related 2012 bill introduced in response to the 2009 National Academies report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.  The report found that the interpretation of forensic evidence can be severely compromised by the lack of supporting science and standards.

Since the report’s release, Rockefeller has focused on supporting basic research in forensic science and on improving standards of practice. Rockefeller has convened three Commerce Committee hearings to highlight the need for scientific research, for enforceable national standards, and for Federal government leadership to validate and standardize forensic disciplines nationwide. The recently established National Commission on Forensic Science implements a provision in Rockefeller’s original bill, which calls for the creation of this entity.

A wide range of organizations have supported the need for basic research and standards development in the forensic sciences. Reform advocates have included the Innocence Project; the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME); the American Statistical Association (ASA); the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is particularly concerned about the potential for bias in the criminal justice system.

A copy of the bill is available here.

To implement needed reforms, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 would:

         Require standards development: NIST would be directed to develop forensic science standards in consultation with standards development organizations and forensic science stakeholders. NIST would also be permitted to establish and solicit advice from discipline-specific expert working groups to identify standards development priorities and opportunities.

         Implement uniform standards: The bill would direct a national commission on forensic science – chaired by the Director of NIST and the Attorney General and comprised of research scientists, forensic science practitioners, and legal and law enforcement professionals – to recommend new science-based standards.  It would also require the Attorney General to implement these standards in Federal forensic science laboratories and to encourage standards adoption in non-Federal laboratories.

         Promote research: A National Forensic Science Coordinating Office would be established to develop a forensic science research strategy and to support the implementation of that strategy across relevant Federal agencies. The National Science Foundation would be directed to support forensic science research and the creation of forensic science research centers. All agencies with equities in forensic science would be encouraged to stimulate innovative and creative solutions to satisfy the research needs and priorities identified in the research strategy.

New Scholarship Spotlight: Cognitive bias in forensic anthropology

Itiel Dror and others have posted the newest piece on the issue of confirmation bias in forensics.  If you haven’t been introduced to Dror’s body of work yet, check it out here.  The abstract of the newest paper, which can be downloaded in full here, states:

An experimental study was designed to examine cognitive biases within forensic anthropological non-metric methods in assessing sex, ancestry and age at death. To investigate examiner interpretation, forty-one non- novice participants were semi randomly divided into three groups. Prior to conducting the assessment of the skeletal remains, two of the groups were given different extraneous contextual information regarding the sex, ancestry and age at death of the individual. The third group acted as a control group with no extraneous contex- tual information. The experiment was designed to investigate if the interpretation and conclusions of the skeletal remains would differ amongst participants within the three groups, and to assess whether the examiners would confirm or disagree with the given extraneous context when establishing a biological profile. The results revealed a significant biasing effect within the three groups, demonstrating a strong confirmation bias in the assessment of sex, ancestry and age at death. In assessment of sex, 31% of the participants in the control group concluded that the skeleton remains were male. In contrast, in the group that received contextual information that the remains were male, 72% concluded that the remains were male, and in the participant group where the context was that the remains were of a female, 0% of the participants concluded that the remains were male. Comparable results showing bias were found in assessing ancestry and age at death. These data demonstrate that cognitive bias can impact forensic anthropological non-metric methods on skeletal remains and affects the interpretation and con- clusions of the forensic scientists. This empirical study is a step in establishing an evidence base approach for dealing with cognitive issues in forensic anthropological assessments, so as to enhance this valuable forensic sci- ence discipline.

Bite-Mark Evidence: Compelling Enough to Convict the Innocent

Bite-mark evidence proved to be both powerful and unreliable in more than two dozen known cases of wrongful conviction. An article by Kathleen Hopkins for Gannett on this issue includes these specific difficulties relating to bite marks as evidence (Source: The Innocence Project and Dr. John Demas, a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences): Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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Arson Exoneration in Michigan…

Release yesterday from the Michigan Innocence Clinic:

The Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce that our client Victor Caminata was exonerated today at the Wexford County Courthouse in Cadillac, Michigan. Mr. Caminata had served 5 years and 2 weeks of wrongful imprisonment for arson before he was released on July 2, 2013, when the Michigan Attorney General’s Office agreed that his conviction should be vacated because its experts no longer stood by the arson determination that had sent Mr. Caminata to prison to serve 9 to 40 years. Today, the AG dismissed the case with prejudice.

Mr. Caminata was convicted after the house he shared with his then-girlfriend and their children burned in 2008. An initial fire investigation concluded that the fire originated in the chimney, which was connected to a wood stove. But after the police received an anonymous tip, investigators re-examined the wreckage and found supposed signs that the fire had been intentionally set to look like a chimney fire. Remarkably, the state’s investigators never examined the interior of the chimney, which is the most basic step a fire investigator is required to take before ruling out a chimney fire.

Today’s final dismissal came almost two years after we filed a motion for relief from judgment for Mr. Caminata based on the conclusion of our experts that the state’s fire investigators had committed fundamental errors in violation of NFPA 921, that the supposed signs of arson were spurious, and that the original determination that an accidental chimney fire had burned the house was, in fact, correct.

We are especially grateful to Jim Samuels of Big Rapids, Michigan, and Mike McKenzie of Atlanta, Georgia, both of whom co-counseled the case with the Clinic on a pro bono basis, and to experts Joe Filas and Tom May, who also lent their services pro bono. Staff attorney Imran Syed led our legal team, which included at various times former co-director (now Michigan Supreme Court justice) Bridget McCormack, clinical professor Kim Thomas, and former students Blase Schmid, Adam Thompson, Kate O’Connor, Rachel Burg, Zach Dembo, Nick Hambley, Laura Andrade, Jocelin Chang, and Marc Allen, and current students Lexi Bond, Emily Goebel, and Claire Madill.

Unreliable Evidence Cost Man 25 Years and Chicago $6.3 Million

According to the Chicago Sun-Times (here), the City of Chicago has agreed to pay $6.3 million to Larry Gillard to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that the Chicago police crime lab distorted evidence, which contributed to his wrongful conviction of a 1981 rape.  Gillard served 25 years in prison before DNA proved his innocence.

Two pieces of unreliable evidence conspired to convict Gillard. A Chicago Police Crime Laboratory analyst testified that Gillard was among 4.4 percent of African Continue reading

National Commission on Forensic Science…

Press release:
U.S. DEPARTMENTS OF JUSTICE AND COMMERCE NAME EXPERTS
TO FIRST-EVER NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FORENSIC SCIENCE
 
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced appointments to a newly created National Commission on Forensic Science.
Members of the commission will work to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system.  The commission also will work to develop policy recommendations for the U.S. Attorney General, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for formal training and certification.
The commission is co-chaired by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick D. Gallagher.  Nelson Santos, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Forensic Sciences at the Drug Enforcement Administration, and John M. Butler, special assistant to the NIST director for forensic science, serve as vice-chairs.
“I appreciate the commitment each of the commissioners has made and look forward to working with them to strengthen the validity and reliability of the forensic sciences and enhance quality assurance and quality control,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole.  “Scientifically valid and accurate forensic analysis supports all aspects of our justice system.”
The commission includes federal, state and local forensic science service providers; research scientists and academics; law enforcement officials; prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges; and other stakeholders from across the country.  This breadth of experience and expertise reflects the many different entities that contribute to forensic science practice in the U.S. and will ensure these broad perspectives are represented on the commission and in its work.
“This new commission represents an extremely broad range of expertise and skills,” said Under Secretary Gallagher.  “It will help ensure that forensic science is supported by the strongest possible science-based evidence gathering, analysis and measurement.
“This latest and most impressive collaboration between the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will help ensure that the forensic sciences are supported by the most rigorous standards available—a foundational requirement in a nation built on the credo of ‘justice for all,’” said John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The following commissioners were chosen from a pool of more than 300 candidates:
Suzanne Bell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, West Virginia University; Frederick Bieber, Ph.D., Medical Geneticist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School; Thomas Cech, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder; Cecelia Crouse, Ph.D., Director, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory;Gregory Czarnopys, Deputy Assistant Director, Forensic Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; M. Bonner Denton, Ph.D., Professor, University of Arizona; Vincent Di Maio, M.D., Consultant in Forensic Pathology; Troy Duster, Ph.D., Chancellor’s Professor and Senior Fellow, Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Jules Epstein, Associate Professor of Law, Widener University; Stephen Fienberg, Ph.D., Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science, Carnegie Mellon University; Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology and Director Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University; John Fudenberg, Assistant Coroner, Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner, Clark County, Nevada; S. James Gates, Jr., Ph.D., University System Regents Professor and John S. Toll Professor of Physics, University of Maryland; Dean Gialamas,Crime Laboratory Director, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Scientific Services Bureau;Paul Giannelli, Distinguished University Professor and Albert J Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University; Hon. Barbara Hervey, Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Susan Howley, Public Policy Director, National Center for Victims of Crime; Ted Hunt, Chief Trial Attorney, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Kansas City, Missouri; Linda Jackson, Director, Virginia Department of Forensic Science;  John Kacavas, United States Attorney, District of New Hampshire; Pamela King, Assistant State Public Defender, Minnesota State Public Defender Office; Marc LeBeau, Ph.D., Senior Forensic Scientist, Scientific Analysis Section, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Julia Leighton, General Counsel, Public Defender Service, District of Columbia; Hon. Bridget Mary McCormack, Justice, Michigan Supreme Court; Peter Neufeld, Co-Director, Innocence Project, Benjamin Cardozo School of Law; Phil Pulaski, Chief of Detectives, New YorkCity Police Department; Hon. Jed Rakoff, Senior United States District Judge, Southern District of New York; Matthew Redle,Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney, Sheridan, Wyoming; Michael “Jeff” Salyards, Ph.D.,Executive Director, Defense Forensic Science Center, Department of the Army; and Ryant Washington, Sheriff, Fluvanna County Sherriff’s Office, Fluvanna, Virginia.
Ex-Officio Members:
David Honey, Ph.D., Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Science and Technology and Director of Science and Technology, Office of the Director of National Intelligence;Marilyn Huestis, Ph.D., Chief, Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health; Gerald LaPorte, Acting Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, National Institute of Justice; Patricia Manzolillo, Laboratory Director, Forensic Laboratory Services, U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Frances Schrotter, Senior Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, American National Standards Institute; Kathryn Turman,Program Director, Office for Victim Assistance, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Mark Weiss, Ph.D., Division Director, Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, National Science Foundation.
The first meeting of the Commission will be held February 3-4, 2014, at 810 7th Street, N.W., Washington, DC.  The membership list, notice of meetings, commission charter and other related material will be maintained within the General Service Administration’s Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) database at http://www.facadatabase.gov.
As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.  To learn more about NIST, visit www.nist.gov.
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Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently awarded the William O. Douglas Award to UW law professor Jackie McMurtrie for her nearly 20 years of work toward bringing justice to wrongly convicted individuals with the Innocence Project Northwest.
  • In more Jackie McMurtrie news, an editorial in this week’s Seattle Times praised the efforts made by attorneys and law students at the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic at the University of Washington School Of Law in their pursuit to overturn a King County man’s wrongful conviction.  Way to go Jackie!
  • California Innocence Project exoneree Brian Banks, and NFL player, signed a movie deal to tell his story
  • Bad ballistics evidence may have caused a Quebec judge to be wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife
  • Scrapping the corroboration requirement in Scotland could cause more wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff settles wrongful conviction suit for $3.4 million.
  • Illinois exoneree Alan Beamon has wrongful conviction lawsuit dismissed

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The 2013 holiday season meant a great deal to Brandon Olebar, who, after 10 years of wrongful incarceration, got to enjoy the festivities with his family for the first time in over a decade. Olebar’s release comes thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW).  More….
  • In NY, Robert Jones, who has been imprisoned for 19 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit, hopes to be released after State’s key witness says she was pressured to identify him as the perp.
  • In Massachusetts, doctors believe Brian Peixoto was wrongfully convicted of child murder in an alleged junk medical science case.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • In New Jersey, DNA test results exonerate Gerard Richardson in bite mark murder case
  • Colorado begins compensation payments to exoneree Robert Dewey
  • Illinois exoneree Carl Chatman briefly jailed when police mistakenly believe he was unregistered sex offender

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Washington state exonerees Alan Northrop and Larry Davis settle their federal wrongful conviction lawsuit for $10.5 million
  • The city of Peekskill has approved a $5.4 million settlement with a man who spent 16 years in prison for a killing he didn’t commit.  The Journal News (http://lohud.us/18CSmN5 ) says the Peekskill Common Council approved the settlement with Jeffrey Deskovic (DEH’-skoh-vihch) on Tuesday night.  Deskovic was 16 when he was charged with the November 1989 killing of a 15-year-old Peekskill High School classmate.  He was freed from prison in 2006 after DNA linked the killing to another man.  Deskovic previously received $8.3 million from New York state and Westchester County. He used some of the money to start the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help other innocent people get out of prison.  In May, he received a master’s degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
  • Another Texas arson case getting scrutiny

‘False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent’ – Why Did They Write It?

FalseJusticeI hope that you’re all familiar with, and in fact have read, the book by Jim and Nancy Petro, False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent.

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Jim is a former Attorney General of the state of Ohio, and Nancy, among her many other endeavors, is also a contributing editor to this blog.

I recently just happened across this interview with Jim and Nancy at the Columbus Metropolitan Club in 2010.  They talk about what brought them to write the book.

It’s about an hour long, and I found it both fascinating and illuminating.  Definitely worth a watch.

PA Innocence Project Launches Forensic Science Academy for Lawyers

From the Pennsylvania Innocence Project Blog:

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences produced an exhaustive study of the state of forensic science in the United States. The report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, was a rude awakening for the entire criminal justice system as to the state of forensic science in our country, and particularly took lawyers to task for not understanding forensic science at all. In response, the Pa. Innocence Project sought to provide that education for Pennsylvania prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Collaborating with Arcadia University and the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education, we developed a 16-hour course to cover topics including death investigations, DNA, fingerprints, chemistry, and arson and explosives. Leading practitioners and scientists are conducting the courses, and lawyers are getting hands-on experience with the techniques to better understand their applications and limitations.

In the early evening of September 12, 30 prosecutors and public defenders gathered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania for the first lecture.Dr. Barry Logan, the Executive Director of the Center, covered the first topic on Death Investigations and Forensic Toxicology. The course will go through October 31, meeting each Thursday evening to cover a different area of forensic science.

It is the goal of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to provide educational opportunities for all members of the criminal justice system to ensure the fair administration of justice.