Medical examiner health issues in play after vacated SBS conviction

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This story from FLA reveals many issues involving the fact that forensic autopsy’s are prone to mistakes and omissions. “New evidence” includes an ME’s health history, resignation, and a dead child’s disease-borne cause-of-death versus abuse by the convicted nanny.

Plus, the political issues are massive considering the lame-duck Floridian Attorney General Angela Corey being involved in retrying the defendant. She has received considerable bad press and got ousted from office this month. Here is something about people “dancing in the streets” over that.

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Controversial use of familial DNA searches helps lead to finds in cold cases

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A broader look at familial DNA use within criminal investigations. Some good, some bad. What appears in all examples, is that ‘presumptions’ of guilt can be incorrect and send prosecutors off in the wrong direction. What’s also apparent is that across the country there are many isolated LEO databases that don’t reflect consistent ‘likelihood ratios’ of match rates with a suspect ‘s DNA profile.

Forensics Forum

Authorities have used DNA databases to search for partial matches in order to solve cold cases. The idea is that these partial matches are likely relatives of the suspect and authorities can focus on investigating relatives of any partial matches. This technique was used to catch an elusive serial killer nicknamed “The Grim Sleeper” in California. Although, police had a full DNA profile of a suspect, they could not find a match in any databases, so they looked for partial matches and discovered that the suspect had a brother in custody. This lead to the capture of a suspect who was later convicted.

While the technology could potentially help police officers solve cold cases, the technique is not without controversy. Due to the much higher proportion of minorities in DNA databases, there is fear that minority communities will be more likely to be under surveillance or suspected of a crime than…

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Forensic Scientist Newsletter – NY Legal Aid Society

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Subscribe to the DNA Newsletter for the latest on forensic news

Thousands of Texas DWI convictions could be tainted after it was discovered that one of the state’s top forensic analysts had mixed up blood samples and gave inaccurate testimony in at least two cases (Fox 4 News)
Related: Dallas News, Baxter Bulletin

Arkansas Supreme Court issues ruling allowing two defendants to seek new trials because of discredited FBI hair analysis testimony (Arkansas Online)
Related: Forensic Magazine

Broward County moves to STRmix DNA software after onslaught of crime lab problems, including mishandled DNA evidence and potential loss of accreditation. The Broward Palm Beach New Times notes, “…the main problem with STRmix and other DNA-matching software programs is that hardly anyone knows how they work. That’s by design: The companies claim their methods are trade secrets and have been fighting to keep source codes under wraps. As a result, defense attorneys aren’t able to have experts independently verify the results. It’s not hard to imagine how this could go wrong. If the software identifies the wrong culprit, who’s going to know? And what if there’s a glitch or a technical malfunction?”

Familial searching gaining traction in several states after success in ‘Grim Sleeper’ case (LA Times)

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awards NYU Tandon School of Engineering $10.4 million digital forensics research grant. The NYU team has been tasked with improving model-based image and facial recognition by using a “data-driven approach rooted in machine learning techniques…”(EurekAlert)

Massachusetts law enforcement using DNA phenotyping software for the first time to help solve a 1992 cold case by recreating the suspect’s face using DNA left at the crime scene. The Albany Times-Union asked local New York prosecutors to comment on Massachusetts’ use of the new technology, with Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney stating DNA phenotyping is a valuable tool, but doubted the admissibility of the technology in court. (Albany Times-Union)

The Georgetown Law Center for Privacy and Technology released a report on law enforcement’s unregulated use of facial recognition technology, citing information gathered from over 100 FOIA requests to local, state and federal police agencies around the country: “This summer, the Government Accountability Office revealed that close to 64 million Americans do not have a say in the matter: 16 states let the FBI use face recognition technology to compare the faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s license and ID photos, creating a virtual line-up of their state residents. In this line-up, it’s not a human that points to the suspect—it’s an algorithm.” The report also addresses problems with racial bias, false matches and the lack of transparency in facial recognition software, and asks Congress and state legislatures to address the civil liberty and privacy risks associated with the unregulated technology. (Georgetown Law)
Related: How a Facial Recognition Mismatch Can Ruin Your Life

Body camera manufacturers in bidding war over $6.4 million NYPD contract (Politico)

“Shaken Baby Syndrome” questioned in two Michigan trials, part of national debate on the reliability of the diagnosis (Washington Post)

Opinions and Commentary

An Op-Ed from the Houston Chronicle argues that the Houston Forensic Science Center should remain independent from law enforcement: “We’re all in favor of cooperation between city and county government, but we think this proposed merger is the wrong way to go. Financial considerations shouldn’t trump the necessity of processing crime scene evidence under an organizational structure that’s clearly independent of law enforcement.”

In an Op-Ed from the Crime Report, defense attorney James Doyle talks about the need for criminal justice reform, including praise for the National Commission on Forensic Science’s recommendation for root cause analysis error reporting

“Inside Case Behind Wrongful Conviction Doc ‘Southwest of Salem’” (Rolling Stone)
Related: Slate Magazine

“What error rate would justify excluding non-science-based forensics?” (Grits for Breakfast)

How to build a 3D crime scene scanner using your Xbox

“Sherlock Holmes could examine a crime scene with nothing but his immense powers of deduction and perhaps a trusty magnifying glass. But real investigators today have much more sophisticated technology at their disposal for carrying out the crucial task of documenting and analyzing a crime scene. 3D laser scanning, for example, allows investigators to quickly build a detailed and highly accurate computer model of the scene.

“The problem is that this equipment is hugely expensive, often costing tens of thousands of pounds and making it inaccessible to smaller police forces and those facing funding cuts. Handheld scanners are available at a cheaper price, but they are more suited to smaller objects or human profiles, rather than documenting a whole crime scene. However, the task of capturing this detail in 3D could be simplified with technology from an unlikely source – the gaming industry.”

Click the picture to find out more!

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#Mellennial Forensics: See the public response to “Knee Jerk Forensic Denials by DAs”


This fellow is running for CA Attorney General. He is also quite headliner for  believers in “speeding” executions via Prop 66. Despite wrongful convictions taking decades to be accomplished. Read about how the DAs responded to the 2016 forensic report from the President’s Council on Science and Technology. See the issues of forensic reform. 

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How Bitemark evidence is still operating at the appellate level – The Kunco Case

Read the trial testimony of a bitemark expert in this 1991 murder trial. He talks “about consistencies” which later became an “identification.”


Here’s the bitemark “injury” he is talking about.


FORENSICS and LAW in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends

The “relatively unique teeth” of John Kunco

The “recaptured” evidence used against Kunco.

There still is a long road for prison inmates to overcome what now is considered to be unvalidated “science” presented at their original trials. John Kunco’s case is a standout and is still being litigated by the NY Innocence Project. Some of the bitemark fellows are having problems with their past cases which mimic the IP’s case list of successful conviction reversals and full exonerations involving bitemark opinions. Such as Steven Chaney’s in Texas.

A two article blog post by David Averill about Kunco and the ongoing  bitemark “war” is available here. It contains numerous evidence photos and further case info. The  “excerpts” give you the gist of what some have called “voodoo science” (Wall St Journal, yesterday). Its second section is what the judge said during Kunco’s previous appeal.

Bitemark Evidence in the Kunco Case


May 15…

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The California history of familial DNA searches for criminal suspects

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Good example of the progression of a valid and reliable forensic method advance towards acceptance. It makes many of the “pattern-matchers” weep in despair.

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Big blowup in FLA about ‘secret’ STRmix DNA software program

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Broward county is having some crime lab problems. Some damned whistleblower got to the damned journalists. A commercially (hence private) software program for mixed blood samples isn’t helping too much either. This Google search on ‘mixed DNA litigation’ brings up up numerous arguments and concerns on the world of  ‘mixed’ bloodstains.’

The forensic sci industry jump into selling their “progies” to the LEOs is strangely similar to the privatization prison companies. Less public oversight for starters.

Full article about Broward DNA.


But as Buzzfeed News reported earlier this year, the main problem with STRmix and other DNA-matching software programs is that hardly anyone knows how they work. That’s by design: The companies claim their methods are trade secrets and have been fighting to keep source codes under wraps. As a result, defense attorneys aren’t able to have experts independently verify the results.

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Forensics: Accusing a crime lab of planting evidence, innocent man executed in CA, +++more

“Quick Clicks” From the Wrongful Conviction Blog.

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Forensics and Criminal Law Potpourri – Some good stuff about innocence, arson, exon $$

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From the Center for Wrongful Convictions’ Friday blog.

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Parsing the error rates a judge found acceptable for a “ballistic similarity” = “identification”

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The war of words about what is ‘reliable’ about forensic opinions is getting stretched and compressed depending on the source of comment.

The fingerprint corp called the IAI  had its’ president put a 3/4 page blast out about his ‘standing’ strong on the IAI foot print methods. Here it is for those so interested in it. The President’s Council on Sci put out a 179 page report. This IAI person got exercised about it enough to barely fill a single typed page, so it must have been written at night.

Here is this picture of him in case you might run into him at some meeting. Meet Harold Ru[slander]. This is an example of ‘compressed” to say the least. No errors, period.

President Harold Ruslander

So, enough hilarity for now. The judicial machinations on forensic reliability is apparently being twisted into what this ex-lawyer considers to be ‘acceptable error.’  By a judge, remember. To be judged later by more judges.

Here is Grits for Breakfast presenting a question being asked and answered by judges all the time.

“What’s a ‘good error rate’ in non-science forensics testimony?” Harold thinks its aok. Of course,  the IAI self-publishes all its ‘scientific’ findings.

What error rate would justify excluding non-science-based forensics?


 A recent report from the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology renewed concerns first raised by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 about the lack of scientific foundation for many if not most commonly used forensics besides DNA and toxicology. Our friends at TDCAA shared on their user forum a link to the first federal District Court ruling citing the PCAST report, focused in this instance on ballistics matching.

The federal judge out of Illinois admitted ballistics evidence despite the PCAST report because he considered estimated false-positive rates relatively low. Here’s the critical passage on that score:

PCAST did find one scientific study that met its requirements (in addition to a number of other studies with less predictive power as a result of their designs). That study, the “Ames  Laboratory study,” found  that toolmark analysis has a false positive rate between 1 in 66 and 1 in 46. Id. at 110. The next most reliable study, the “Miami-Dade Study” found a false positive rate between 1 in 49 and 1 in 21. Thus, the defendants’ submission places the error rate at roughly 2%. The Court finds that this is a sufficiently low error rate to weigh in favor  of  allowing  expert  testimony. See  Daubert  v.  Merrell  Dow  Pharms.,  509  U.S.  579,  594 (1993) (“the court ordinarily should consider the known or potential rate of error”); United States v. Ashburn, 88 F. Supp. 3d 239, 246 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (finding error rates between 0.9 and 1.5% to favor admission of expert testimony); United States v. Otero, 849 F. Supp. 2d 425, 434 (D.N.J. 2012)  (error  rate  that  “hovered  around  1  to  2% ”  was  “low”  and  supported  admitting  expert testimony).  The  other  factors  remain  unchanged  from  this  Court’s  earlier  ruling  on  toolmark analysis.

Using a 2 percent error rate could understate things: The error rates from the studies he cited ranged from 1.5 to 4.8 percent, so it could be twice that high (1 in 21). Still, I’m not surprised that some judges might consider an error rate of 1.5 to 4.8 percent acceptable. And the judge is surely right that the PCAST  report provides a new basis for cross-examining experts and reduces the level of certainty about their findings which experts can portray to juries, so that’s a plus.

Full article where Grits makes some more good points.

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