Category Archives: Junk science

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Innocence Organizations to Educate Criminal Justice Stakeholders on Psychological Factors that Contribute to Wrongful Convictions

New Video Series Supplements Trainings for Law Enforcement and Others Working in Criminal Justice

The International Association of Chiefs of Police is joining  the Innocence Project, the Ohio Innocence Project and other members of the Innocence Network to release a series of videos to educate law enforcement and criminal justice professionals about the psychological phenomena that can impede criminal investigations and prosecutions, and lead to wrongful convictions. The seven videos feature leading experts discussing how to recognize psychological factors, such as memory malleability and implicit bias, that affect investigations and prosecutions as well as highlighting some of the safeguards that can be employed to prevent wrongful convictions.  The videos are available at law.uc.edu/human-factors.html.

IACScreenshot_2018-11-19 Sherry Nakhaeizadeh FINAL_6a movP has been a leader in promoting reforms that reduce wrongful convictions, as far back as 2006 with the release of a key training on eyewitness identification, in 2010 and 2016 with the releases of model policies, in 2013 with the summit on wrongful convictions and in 2017 with the production of a roll call video series on eyewitness identification.

“Law enforcement officials are human and are susceptible to the same psychological phenomena that can adversely affect decision-making,” said Paul M. Cell, president of the IACP.  “We are excited to be partnering with innocence organizations to make these videos available because education and training are critical to ensuring that these phenomena don’t adversely affect investigations.”

The videos focus on human flaws that have been proven to contribute to wrongful conviction, and ere designed to complement trainings for stakeholders from all corners of the criminal justice community, from law enforcement to crime lab personnel to prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“While these videos were designed to be used in conjunction with more thorough trainings, we wanted to make them more broadly available online so they are accessible at all times to remind people working in criminal justice to be more aware of the psychological traps that can undermine even the most dedicated and diligent actors,” said Mark Godsey, director of the Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project.Screenshot_2018-11-19 Jim Trainum FINAL_v6a mov(1)

Rebecca Brown, policy director of the Innocence Project which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law, added: “Presenting the psychological factors that contribute to human error in a neutral manner by experts with deep knowledge of the criminal justice system will hopefully encourage a dialogue among professionals, including police, prosecutors, forensic examiners, and defense lawyers, and encourage them to ask themselves and each other if any of these factors may be influencing their work.”

For online access to the videos and more information, visit law.uc.edu/human-factors.html.  Below is a short description of the seven videos:

Confirmation Bias – Dr. Sherry Nakhaeizadeh explains how people tend to interpret evidence in a way that confirms their assumptions and preconceptions.

Memory Malleability – Dr. Elizabeth Loftus discusses how memory is constructed and how it is susceptible to being manipulated by false information.

Eyewitness Misidentification – Dr. Jennifer Dysart explains how memory affects identification and how to prevent eyewitness misidentifications.

False Confessions – Dr. Saul Kassin explains how interrogation techniques can cause innocent people to falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

Lie Detection and Demeanor Evidence – Dr. Par-Anders Granhag exposes the myth that it is possible to tell whether or not someone is being truthful from their physical ticks and mannerisms.

Tunnel Vision – Retired Detective Jim Trainum explains the harm of focusing on a single or limited police or prosecutorial theory and seeking only evidence that confirms that particular theory.

Implicit Bias – Professor L. Song Richardson explains how personal experiences shape our views and can result in unintentional bias.

For inquiries about further information on this project, contact:

Julia Lucivero, 212-364-5371, jlucivero@innocenceproject.org

Sarah Guy, 703-647-7226, guy@theiacp.org

Carey Hoffman, 513-289-1379, Ohio Innocence Project

 

 

Forensic testing scandal in UK widens

Back in February 2017, I blogged about concerns surrounding the quality of forensic science services in the UK (Serious concerns about forensic Science standards in the UK). Perhaps predictably then, UK law enforcement and courts are now facing a scandal that on first appearances seemed to be limited in potential impact, but is now said to involve up to 10,000 criminal cases (Police review 10,000 cases in forensics data ‘manipulation’ inquiry). 

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Since 2012 all UK forensic science providers are private, for-profit, companies – some are not even UK companies – (see LGC divests its forensics division to Eurofins).  In January 2017, after a ‘whistleblower’ contacted police, concerns were raised about the manipulation of toxicology test results from a private laboratory and a criminal investigation was launched. The company – Randox Testing Ltd – had previously bought another company – Trimega – where there had been serious errors and quality failings noted since 2010. The previous highly criticised company, had employees who then went to work for Randox, whereupon the same problems seem to have continued.

The previous company specialised in child protection and family court cases, where children may have been removed from parents based upon flawed drug or alcohol tests. They also undertook work for private companies and public sector bodies, undertaking work such as employers testing their employees for drugs etc. A government minister has conceded that it may never be possible to identify the true number of Trimega customers affected, due to poor record-keeping, and that its samples cannot be retested.

It was anticipated that the cases from Randox would be limited to traffic offences, as the laboratory specialises in alcohol and drug testing for police forces. However, while three-quarters of the cases are traffic offences (7500) – albeit some of the most serious including causing death by dangerous driving (150) – the other quarter involve serious violent (250 murders) and/or sexual offences (up to 1000, including rape) and some 500 relate to unexplained deaths. So far, none of the more serious cases appear to have been affected, but it is admitted that it may take up to 3 years to go through all the cases, due to a lack of forensic testing capacity in the UK.

A police spokesman this week stated that: “Understandably, confidence in the criminal justice system will be rocked, but I am confident that chief constables and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] in particular are doing everything they can to deal with this unforeseeable challenge, affecting both live and historic cases…. We have worked at pace to respond to this serious breach of standards and take action in cases where people’s lives could have been affected,… We are striving to complete all cases requiring retesting as quickly as possible so we will continue to explore ways of speeding up the processes.”

Meanwhile a senior MP has said: “It is clear the chaotic reorganisation of the forensics system, including the closure of the Forensic Science Service, has left providers who were simply not fit for purpose to fill the gap. This has had devastating consequences.” 

Two employees of Randox have been arrested with a further 5 interviewed under caution by police.  The UK Forensic Science Regulator, tasked with ensuring standards across the entire provision of forensic science in the UK has said all major forensic toxicology suppliers were asked to carry out a detailed audit to ensure the issue was not more widespread, but that investigations uncovered no data manipulation, adding: “I’m not going to speculate on any motives because obviously there is an ongoing criminal investigation, but we cannot just say it was a minor technical issue.”

Even if you were not concerned about individuals who may have perhaps received a drink-driving conviction that they did not deserve, albeit such a conviction can have serious consequences, the doubts over the testing has already led to up to 50 drug- and drink-driving cases being dropped because the prosecution can no longer be sure of their evidence. Many more may still have to be halted or re-testing ordered where possible. There are also serious cases involving deaths that have now been referred back the Court of Appeal.

One of the major difficulties is that in many of these cases, suspects will have been under pressure to plead guilty, particularly because there will have been no legal aid available for them to order their own re-testing of samples. One defence lawyer has said: “This is going to blow the whole thing wide open. With cuts to legal aid we don’t always have the resources to challenge scientific evidence. Sometimes you have to take the science at face value… There is a lot of pressure on defendants to plead guilty, the system is stacked against the defence… ” This is the situation in almost all but the most serious criminal cases across the country. With the legal aid system almost non-existent, and the criminal justice system grinding to a halt through severe under-funding and further budget cuts on the way, it may increasingly be the case that any prosecutions that involve forensic evidence will get ‘waived through’ as there is no funding (nor time) for defence testing or scrutiny. In such a situation, we are completely reliant upon the Forensic Regulator to ensure and enforce standards, and for forensic providers to never make mistakes… or act fraudulently. If history – and wrongful convictions – tell us anything, it is that 100% reliance upon ‘standards’ and the professionalism and infallibility of humans is foolhardy in the extreme. This scandal should remind us that we need more safeguards in criminal justice – not fewer.

Read more here:

Convictions in doubt as more than 10,000 cases could be affected by data manipulation at forensics lab

Drug-driving cases dropped over forensics

 

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Blood test for Shaken Baby Syndrome?

From the Blind Injustice Facebook group:

Blood test for shaken baby syndrome? I would sure like to know more about this. History shows that far too often, in the rush for answers, these newly-developed theories or tests are put into use before they are adequately tested in a controlled environment that considers other factors that could lead to the same blood test results. And that leads to wrongful convictions. If the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report on forensic means anything, it means that we have to be very careful with claims like this…

Article about alleged blood test here.

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Today’s Widespread Use of Pre-Trial DNA Testing Won’t End Wrongful Convictions

From phys.org:

As we enter an era in which DNA evidence is routinely used in criminal investigations, errors that led to wrongful convictions—including mistakes later corrected with DNA tests—may seem to be fading into history. This, however, isn’t true, says law and criminal justice professor Daniel Medwed, who edited the book, Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution, which was published last month.

Many of the underlying issues that plagued the U.S. criminal justice system before DNA evidence rose to the fore still exist, he says, and will continue to produce flawed convictions unless they’re remedied.

Here, Medwed explores some of those procedural deficiencies as well as the deeply rooted sense of justice that animates his work.

Why do wrongful convictions occur, and what are some of the factors that lead to convicting an innocent person?

The phrase “wrongful convictions” could encompass a range of flawed convictions. Yet the concept typically refers to the case of a factually innocent person: Someone who simply didn’t commit the crime for which she was convicted. I think innocence cases largely derive from good-faith mistakes rather than malevolence on the part of, say, police or prosecutors. Those mistakes include eyewitnesses who simply get it wrong; zealous prosecutors who can’t look objectively at contrary evidence because of tunnel vision; suspects who falsely confess to crimes due to cognitive deficits; defense lawyers who are overworked and underpaid; and reliance on forensic “science” that lacks sufficient grounding in the scientific method.

In Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution, you examine what we’ve learned after 25 years of exonerating innocent prisoners through DNA evidence. What are those lessons?

We’ve learned about the substantive factors that contribute to wrongful convictions, as mentioned earlier, but we’ve also unearthed the procedural deficiencies in our system. The more than 300 documented exonerations of innocent prisoners through post-conviction DNA tests from 1989 to 2014 show that the traditional mechanisms of error correction in our system are insufficient. The direct appeal (in which a defendant challenges a criminal conviction secured at the trial level to a higher court), is ill-suited to address errors based in fact as opposed to law. And classic “collateral” remedies, such as habeas corpus, are replete with statutes of limitations and other procedural hurdles too high even for the innocent to clear. Going forward, we need to address both the substantive and the procedural flaws that can yield miscarriages of justice.

What has motivated you to study wrongful convictions and DNA evidence, and what inspires you to keep studying it?

First, inspiration comes from deeply-held personal beliefs. In my view, the hallmark of a civilized society is the extent to which we protect those in the weakest position to defend themselves—most notably, criminal suspects facing the potentially massive power of the government. All too often, criminal suspects are people of color with limited financial resources. This dynamic not infrequently produces disturbing outcomes for the individual, and sometimes results in the conviction of an innocent person. Imagine what it must be like to have the system fail you so dramatically, to have your cries of innocence fall on deaf, cynical ears. Thinking about that provides all the motivation I need.

Second, I feel as if we’re at a unique stage in history. DNA testing is now commonly used at the front end of the criminal process to weed out the innocent before a case even gets to trial. That means post-conviction DNA exonerations of inmates will inevitably dwindle to almost nothing; many of the DNA cases that generate headlines concern prisoners convicted years ago. But a decline in DNA exonerations will not signify that the system has become error-proof. Rather, the factors that initially gave rise to those  will remain and infect criminal cases that lack biological evidence suitable for DNA testing at all. Only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of criminal cases have testable biological evidence at all; what’s more, that  is often lost, destroyed, or degraded over time. So, I think we need to capitalize on the lessons learned from the DNA era to reform the underlying sources of error for all cases. And we need to do this before the rate of DNA exonerations wanes too much and the public gets the misimpression that the innocence problem is fixed.

 

NYTimes Editorial Criticizes Trump/Sessions Decision to Kill New Forensic Science Commission

The evidence as to why this is needed is clear.  Those in this movement had worked for such a commission for decades.  This is a horrible decision that could really set back innocence reform–and justice–for years.   Editorial here

Trump Administration kills Forensic Commission

Horrible, horrible news for those who care about accuracy in our criminal justice system.  Read story here.

 

Breaking News: Arson Conviction Based on Bad Science Tossed in Illinois

Defendant Bill Amor represented by Illinois Innocence Project.  Click for decision… amor.opinion.dupage.

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions “Tough on Crime”

The newly anointed US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, in his first major address has proclaimed a policy of “tough on crime” – particularly violent crime.

Here we go again – the “war on drugs” redux. How many prosecutors have been elected running on a “tough on crime” platform? I would say most, if not all.

So how do prosecutors “deliver” on their campaign promise of “tough on crime?” They arrest a lot of people, obtain a lot of indictments, secure a lot of convictions, and send a lot of people to prison. The only problem? A lot of these people may be actually innocent. But they’ve been scooped up into the frenzy of proving that law enforcement is “tough on crime.” People get convicted through intimidating and coercive plea bargains, phony evidence and false testimony, bad forensics, and police and prosecutor misconduct.

Criminal prosecution MUST rest upon the foundations of truth, logic, real evidence, and prosecutorial ethics – not upon hysteria hyped by politicians and the media.

You and see the CNN coverage of Mr. Sessions address here.

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Precedent-setting hair case drags on

Today marks one year of freedom for George D. Perrot, who served 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in a nationally significant case involving flawed FBI forensics and one strand of hair. But Perrot continues to feel “tortured” by Massachusetts prosecutors, who are dragging their feet on an appeal of the decision that set him free. The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism updates the case here.

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Jeffrey MacDonald actual innocence appeal

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret surgeon who was first cleared in the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters and then convicted in 1970, will have what may be his final chance at overturning his conviction after spending the past 36 years in prison for a crime that many experts now believe he did not commit.  Oral arguments before a federal appeals court will commence on January 26.  The crime took place prior to the use of DNA analysis and new DNA evidence and a lot of other evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic testimony, and botched crime scene analysis, provides powerful support for his story that intruders killed his family in what was in some ways similar to the “Manson family” murders in that same era.  People Magazine investigative reports will culminate in its major cover story, available on newsstands on Friday, January 20.  Here is a link to the People Magazine digital story today that precedes the cover story:

Former Green Beret Surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald Says There’s Evidence He Didn’t Kill His Family: ‘I Am Innocent’