Category Archives: Junk science

Prosecutorial Misconduct and Brady Violations – From a Forensic Perspective

Benjamin-Brady Viol

Dr. David Benjamin is a world renowned clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist. Consequently, he has substantial experience involving forensic evidence and “expert” testimony. He recently gave a presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in the Jurisprudence Section focused on Brady violations from a forensic perspective.

There is a mountain of material contained in the presentation, including some specific recommendations for how to combat and counter Brady violations involving forensic evidence and expert testimony.

If you would like to investigate this further, you can contact Dr. Benjamin through his website, and request a copy of the presentation by e’mail.

 

Dog Scent Arson Detection – and Charging

pointerWe’ve posted before about “dog scent lineups.”  See those posts here and  here.  They’ve been called “the worst of the junk sciences.”

I can do naught but shake my head.  I thought we had seen the last of it, but this stuff is still going on. In Maricopa County, AZ, not one, but two, people were charged with setting their own houses on fire, based upon bogus dog scent evidence which was solely the result of unethical conduct by the Phoenix Fire Department investigators involved. An independent, professional fire investigator confirmed without question that the fires were NOT arson.  The charges against both were eventually dismissed, but not before one of them spent 16 months in jail.

See the aol.com Inside Edition story here … it should make you angry.

And here’s the kicker.  Despite the recommendation of six felony charges, the prosecutor declined to bring any charges against the dishonest fire department employees, and they are both still employed by the department.

Looks like the “good ol’ boy” network is alive and well in Maricopa County.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Shaken Baby Syndrome Decision in Sweden

Score one for sanity, logic, reason, and science.

There has been a recent decision (October, 2014) by the Swedish Supreme Court that calls into question the scientific validity of the classic “triad” SBS diagnosis. According to the triad diagnosis, the symptoms of retinal hemorrhage, subdural hematoma, and diffuse edema of the brain are pathognomonic (exclusively indicative) of violent shaking or abusive head trauma.  The “triad” has been the mainstay of SBS prosecutions for decades, but in recent years, has come under increasingly critical scrutiny.

These quotes from the testimony of experts before the Swedish court:

It can be concluded that, in general terms, the scientific evidence for the diagnosis of violent shaking has turned out to be uncertain.”

The controversy is not about whether it is harmful to shake a child violently. The issue under discussion is with what scientific certainty it can be established how various injuries found in a child have arisen. The claim that the occurrence of the triad is strong evidence that violent shaking has occurred goes back to the late 1960s; however, the medical evidence for it was relatively thin. But the claim became generally accepted and grew into medical truth over several decades, even though the situation in terms of evidence did not change. It is known that a very large share of fundus haemorrhages are not linked to violence and arise in another way. Nor has it been shown that nerve fibers are torn, and that the brain therefore begins to swell, in connection with violent shaking. It can also be asked whether violent shaking can occur without neck injuries arising… To sum up, it can be said that the scientific support for the diagnosis of violent shaking is uncertain.

Sue Luttner, who edits the blog OnSBS, has done an excellent job of summarizing this decision and the case it involves, and has posted it on her blog here.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Update on the National Registry of Exonerations

In case you haven’t been able to check in on the National Registry of Exonerations lately, here’s an excerpt from the most recent data.  Note the total is now up to 1,512, and the trend line is definitely UP.

exon dna non

exon cont fact

exon fact crime

I won’t belabor you by pointing out some of the more obvious observations.  Just a few minutes of study will (should) lead you to some very clear conclusions.

It has been reported that the folks at the Registry are hard at work trying to incorporate the exonerations being generated by the newly formed “conviction integrity units” (CIU’s).  For these cases the prosecutors running the CIU’s may not be very motivated to have their exonerations logged into the Registry.

I can’t gush enough about how critical and important this data is.  It is this kind of HARD DATA that will provide the foundation for much needed and long overdue justice system reform.

DA to Appeal Shaken Baby Conviction Reversal

We have previously reported on the Reneé Bailey case here.

Reneé Bailey, a day care provider in Greece, New York, was convicted in 2001 of shaking 2½ year old Brittney Sheets to death.  She was confined in prison until NY State Supreme Court Justice James Piampiano granted an evidentiary hearing in the case to consider the new scientific findings regarding SBS.  She was released without bail in December, 2014, and her conviction was reversed; the first SBS conviction reversal in New York state.  See the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle story here.

Now, in a recent announcement, the Monroe County, NY District Attorney, Sandra Doorley, has declared her intention to appeal the conviction reversal.

See that Rochester Democrat & Chronicle story here.

While this is certainly not good news for Ms. Bailey, who has already served 13 years in prison, there could be a silver lining to this ominous dark cloud. If the conviction reversal is upheld on appeal, this will establish some substantial legal precedent in favor of true science, rather than outdated medical dogma, in the evaluation and disposition of SBS cases.

Stay tuned.

Another Shaken Baby Syndrome Acquittal

An Iowa District Judge has dismissed the case against Peter Ranke, who was accused of injuring his 3-week old baby by shaking.  And further, the judge sharply criticized the diagnosing doctor for mishandling the investigation into the child’s injuries

This case highlights the proclivity of child abuse pediatricians to jump immediately to an SBS diagnosis; without giving due consideration to possible differential diagnoses.

See the Iowa City Press-Citizen story here.

New York Law Journal – New Medical Knowledge Debunks Shaken Baby Conviction

Yesterday, Dec. 22, 2014, in a Monroe County, New York court, Rene’ Bailey was ordered released from prison without bail, and is expected to return home today.  See the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story here.

We highlighted the Rene’ Bailey case in a previous WCB post, “Shaken Baby Syndrome ……. Progress for True Science?” last January here.

She was convicted in 2002 of murdering a 2½ year old child in her care, and the conviction was based upon medical testimony of “shaken baby syndrome.”

The actual cause of death is believed to have been a short fall from a piece of play equipment onto a carpeted garage floor.  The prosecution has yet to decide upon appeal or retrial.

See the New York Law Journal article here.     Note: accessing the article requires registration with the site.

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Conviction Involving Steven Hayne, Shaken Baby Syndrome

We’ve posted previously about Dr. Steven Hayne here.  Hayne was the now-discredited, long-time medical examiner for the state of Mississippi; notorious for his questionable forensic testimony.

Dr. Hayne’s cases keep unraveling; however, this case does not center specifically on Hayne’s credibility, but rather on the defendant’s being denied the ability to hire an expert to challenge Hayne’s credibility in court.

See the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

Recent Rash of Exonerations Only the Surface: Many More Remain Wrongfully Imprisoned

By Jefferey Deskovic for The Huffington Post

Fernando Bermudez. Sami Leka. Jose Morales. Reuben Montalvo. Lazaro Burts. Kareen Bellamy. Anthony Ortiz. Frank Sterling. Roy Brown. Dennis Halstead. John Kogut. Eric Glisson. Jonathan Fleming.

Those are the names of 13 men that I personally knew and served time with who were exonerated either during my 16 years in prison or thereafter.

Last year there were 91 exonerations. This year there have been 90 thus far. To date there have been 1482 exonerations overall, only 321 of them being DNA related. Since taking office this past January, Brooklyn DA Thompson’s conviction integrity unit has exonerated 11 people.

Most experts estimate the percentage of wrongfully convicted prisoners to be 2 to 5% of the inmate population — that is 120,000 people. I deem the number to be closer to 15 to 20%.

In either case, what is causing the staggering number of wrongful convictions?

Rogue Law Enforcement. In Brooklyn, disgraced retired detective Scarcella was found to have used the same drug addict as the sole eyewitness in six different murder cases. Various news accounts say as many as 70 homicides he worked on are being reviewed.

Forensic Fraud. In Pennsylvania, forensic scientist, Annie Dhookhan, was sentenced to three to five years in prison and two years of probation after pleading guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence.

Additionally, forensic scientists are given financial incentives for giving prosecutorial favorable results that lead to conviction in North Carolina, Illinois, Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Prosecutorial Misconduct. Lying to judges and juries about the existence of benefits and in some cases coercion to informants was a regular practice over the span of the 23 year tenure of former Brooklyn DA Hynes, as was withholding of evidence of innocence.

Junk science. For 40 years, FBI experts have testified in court about “bullet lead analysis” a procedure in which bullets found at a crime scene are tested for arsenic, tin, silver, and other contaminants or additives, and the findings were compared to analysis of bullets found in the possession of suspects. These experts claimed to be able to link one bullet to others from the same production run. For at least 20 years, FBI officials knew that there were no scientific underpinnings to this junk science — that in fact, there were no studies shown to determine how significant a “match” was.

Disgraced dog scent expert Preston came into courtrooms in Texas and Florida for over 20 years, stating that he had trained dogs which would bark if, after being given items to smell from a crime, the dog recognized the scent from a suspect’s item. Preston claimed that his dogs could smell human traces years or months after a suspect walked over the ground, on heavily trafficked streets, underwater, and even after hurricanes. He is not the only “expert” in this “field.”

In 2013, it was revealed that in 27 death penalty cases, FBI forensic experts may have exaggerated the scientific conclusions that were drawn from a so-called “match” between hair found at a crime scene and hair from a defendant.

Tire tracks, footprints, and bite marks are also junk science.

I served 16 years in prison, from the ages of 17 to 32, wrongfully convicted of a murder and rape in New York, despite the fact that the DNA never matched. I lost all seven of my appeals, including two of which now US Supreme Court Judge Sotomayor denied on procedural grounds for having been four days late despite my substantive innocence argument. Ultimately I was exonerated because further DNA testing identified the actual perpetrator, who killed another victim 3.5 years later.

Using $1.5 million dollars of compensation I received, I started The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to exonerate the wrongfully convicted in DNA and non-DNA cases, educate the public, elected officials, and criminal justice professionals on the causes of wrongful conviction and the reforms need to prevent them, and help the exonerated reintegrate. In two years time, we helped exonerate William Lopez, who had served 23.5 years, and helped 4 wrongfully convicted men reintegrate back into society by providing short-term housing, which enabled them to pursue further education, and in one case open a business.

This holiday season, while celebrating with friends and family, we hope you’ll take a brief moment to remember all those who remain wrongfully imprisoned.

To learn more about The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice and how you can help, please visit here.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

How the Courts Trap People Who Have Been Convicted by Bad Forensics

Radley Balko, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, has just published an article dealing with the justice system’s refusal/inability to deal appropriately with false, fake, unscientific, and discredited forensic evidence post conviction.

The focus is on a case that involves the infamous Dr. Steven Hayne, a now thoroughly discredited expert witness, who was sole medical examiner for the state of Mississippi for 20 years.  I urge you to read the entire article, but I’ve extracted a few particularly telling quotes:

•  “The courts and the people who operate in them seem to feel that the integrity of the system demands the preservation of verdicts.”

Addressing the fact that the body of scientific knowledge grows as a process, rather than an event; coupled with the legal time restrictions for introduction of new evidence  ————

•  “From the perspective of the wrongly convicted, you can see the trap here. File too soon, and the court may conclude that you haven’t presented enough evidence that the forensic theory upon which you were convicted has been discredited. If you then try to file more petitions as more evidence comes out to bolster your argument, you risk the court concluding that this is an  issue you’ve already raised, you lost, and you’re therefore barred from raising it again.”

•  “Koon was convicted due to testimony from an expert the court now admits isn’t credible. For the same court to nevertheless uphold his conviction because he missed a deadline is to keep him in prison on a technicality. It’s a cynical outcome that suggests the criminal justice system values process more than justice.”

Read the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Recovery therapy still being used to foster false accusations

“The belief that hidden memories can be ‘recovered’ in therapy should have been exorcised years ago, when a rash of false memories dominated the airwaves, tore families apart and put people on the stand for crimes they didn’t commit,” Pacific Standard magazine reports in a story you can find here.

Sadly, pseudoscientific recovery therapy is still being used, and, Pacific Standard says, “people are still paying the price.”

Progress on the Road to Valid, Reliable Forensics

NASNCFS

The National Academy of Sciences of the United States published it’s Congressionally commissioned report,  “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward,” in 2009.  This was in response to the realization that a lot of what goes on in forensics can be called “junk science.” That is, much of it is not scientifically proven, is not statistically valid, is not reliable, and is very subject to the biases of individual examiners. We have featured the NAS report previously on this blog here, here, and here.

Not surprisingly, the NAS report was met with “stonewall” and dismissive resistance from the extant forensics community, as well as the National Association of District Attorneys.  However, the report succeeded in bringing forensics under the scrutiny of scientific discipline, and made the public aware of its many shortcomings and failings.  Subsequently, it was announced in 2013 that the US Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would jointly form the National Commission on Forensic Science to provide guidelines and recommendations for the conduct and use of forensic technology.  The first meeting of the Commission was in February, 2014.

Continue reading

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) – Bad Science and the Race for Massachusetts Governor

In an op-ed piece that will appear in tomorrow’s (10/19) print edition of the Boston Globe, Lee Scheier takes former prosecutor Martha Coakley to task for her “deft misuse of science” in the SBS conviction of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was working for the Eappen family when their 8-month-old son Matthew died in 1997.

Coakley is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, and recently set up a photo op with Deborah Eappen, Matthew’s mother, trying to defend her record on “protecting children.”

This quote from the article:  “Coakley’s odd invocation of this case demands that we look at the facts. What cannot be lost in all of this political maneuvering is the truth about the Woodward case and all the thousands of shaken-baby cases before and since Woodward. The truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.” (emphasis mine)

See the Boston Globe op-ed here.

Thanks to Dr. John Plunkett for passing this along.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…