A classic example of legal/forensic relationship disharmony.
Here are issue clarifications and further discussion from earlier CSIDDS blogs about an Iowa state medical examiner court hearing and trial testimony about cause and manner of death in a murder case. After reversing the infanticide conviction against the mother Tyler, the Iowan Supreme Court took this expert to school (and by reference this includes all the state’s medico-legal 1300 annual autopsies) with its opine on the legalities of determining the manner of death being “homicide” via the use of hearsay evidence.
This has set off a fur ball of upset in the state and national death investigation community.
Here is a list from the upper court’s legal objections to what the forensic pathologist said in court.
1) The medical evidence (i.e. hearsay statements from the child’s mother) the expert brought into court as his opinion support was not supported by medical evidence. This is despite a death certificate (which states cause and manner of death) not being limited to only a basis of violent or pathology being observable either inside or outside the victim’s body. Note that death certificates are not signed as a statement of “medical certainty.”
2) Usurping (taking away) the jury privilege to determine actual guilt. (This one seems strangely unsupported by what I have read). I think the higher court tripped over the fact that this is what MEs do all the time in court. They include circumstances around the nexus of a death. In the archaic and hardly used inquest system and lay (non-medical) coroner systems, a hearing run by the coroner brings in witnesses determined to be relevant to the case. In its objection, the Iowa court sounds to be using the mother’s statement as being a confession which, according to law, can only be believed or discounted by a jury.
3) The ME talking beyond his expertise regarding the “truth” of a defendant’s statements which were (by the defense) claimed to be coerced or at least “incompetent.” (connecte to #2).
The Iowa Association of Medical Examiners had submitted an ‘amicus brief” defending the legal and statutory rights of a medical examiner’s opinions regarding death certificates. At this point a copy of that amicus is not available to me.
A quote from the appellate opinion on Tyler.
“Tyler asserts the doctor’s opinion, based solely upon Tyler’s statements to law enforcement officers and not his medical expertise, invaded the province of the jury to decide credibility and factual issues. Because we agree with Tyler, we reverse her conviction and remand for a new trial.”
A quote from the medical examiner .
“Dr. Thompson also ruled the manner of death “homicide.” Trial tr. p. 669, line 25 — p. 670, line 5. He explained that homicide is a neutral medical term that “doesn’t signify right or wrong. It simply means death at the hands of another individual.” Trial tr. p. 670, lines 6–9. He elaborated that, “Just like cause of death, my manner of death opinion is based on history, again, scene findings, witness statements; it’s based on a physical exam, or the autopsy; and then supplemental lab testing.” Trial tr. p. 670, lines 10–14. On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Dr. Thompson if he was “entirely relying on the review of the interview [where the defendant confessed]” for his conclusion about breathing. Trial tr. p. 682, lines 3–8. The doctor disagreed, noting “there’s nothing inconsistent with what the witness statement said with the autopsy findings.” Trial tr. p. 682, lines 3–8”
To my thinking, we are talking apples and oranges regarding what the court says is inappropriate. It is effectively “shrinking” the scope of medical opinion in determining bases for cause and death an affecting the existing domain of the Iowa medical examiner death system as allowed by state statutes.
1999 murder investigation went to a private forensic firm in the UK. 600,000P later, no leads, nowhere to go.
Aussie Major Crimes unit is having a rough time in court x2.
“They took all the forensic samples and never tested them. It’s incredible,” Mr Napper said. “It’s extraordinary that they didn’t do this forensic testing before they charged anyone.” Mr Napper also criticis[z]ed the police case for relying almost entirely on the “questionable” testimony of three known Albany drug dealers. Full article.
No money in the account? Hooouston crime lab drops property crime ‘touch DNA service’ to local law enforcement as being too expensive for budget. “Touch DNA” had solved over 800 crimes. The county spent $$ to establish this specialty DNA unit almost ten years ago. One wonders what they spend on continued marijuana testing? Could redirecting the budget have prevented this?