Junk Science in the US and the UK – Hands across the sea

Junk Science


The blog starts on how scientific arguments about DNA (and everything else dealing with forensics) within the US courts are so heavily affected by legalisms which allow one state (in this newest case NJ) to accept the opinion of another state (NY of course across the Hudson river) court with hardly any effort (for judicial ‘economy’ purposes). Similar failures of this concept are seen in US states still accepting bite mark opinions based on either misinterpretation of a precedent-making case ( Marx from CA in 1975) or ignoring another precedent-case being overturned decades later by DNA evidence and the inmate being exonerated. (Robert Lee Stinson from Wisconsin in 1985) . Exonerated in 2009.

Here is the real example of this ‘stare decisis’ (‘precedent’) in action this last week. The NJ trial court denial of a defense motion for review of DNA statistical  methods (i.e the ‘Toolbox’) allowed the lady DA to ridicule defense attempts to overcome the 1923 Frye Rule which says almost anything (like palm reading and bitemarks) is ok if it has the “acceptance of a relevant scientific community.” This legal dinosaur does NOT mean it has to be FULLY accepted or how big is the ‘community.’  Here’s the scientific context of Frye: In 1923 scientists could not prove  that DNA existed. Watson, Crick and Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, their unrecognized female collaborator, did that in 194os. Not a good show affirming cutting edge  judicial, legal scholastics and statutory scientific relevance regarding their “gatekeeping” responsibilities. ( “gatekeeping” is from the vaguely written and severely ‘lawyered’ Daubert/Kumho (1990’s federal cases) improvement on scientific admissibility used in about 35 US states.

Now onto the broader topic of High(er) Sensitivity DNA.

Comments on this article “Junk Science” by Keith Rose from ‘Insider Time.’

This British publication does a good job talking about crime lab biology taking DNA from a recognized and accepted validated status (regular 28 cycle PCR) to the realm of higher sensitivity (increased to 32 PCR cycles) fraught with difficulties involving interpretations of blood mixtures (except in NJ an NY).

This topic is the crux of discontent in the US press reporting about fired crime lab managers in the Washington DC “ex-independent” lab facility and confusing court interpretations about what is or is not validated in its accompanying interpretations.

Mr. Rose uses quotes which reveal how “junk” science is poorly handled by US law enforcement even after they finally admit their mistakes (and now are professing upcoming improvements).  There are parallels elsewhere in the forensic science communities where “group think” committees tasked to reform problem subjects in police ‘sciences’ are filled with practitioners of the very same methods in need of serious revamping. This current trend of ‘reform’ is really a counter-punch to the 2009 NAS review  finding a slew of questionable practices. That really pissed off the practitioners since the NAS personnel were without doubt real scientists. Take this example of the standing within the NIST/DOJ study group on bitemarks.

From the “Insider Time”

“For example, it took around 5 years for the FBI to identify around 60 death row inmates whose cases required further examination, and in that period at least 3 prisoners were executed.”

and the real KICKER:

“However, future problems with cross-contamination of DNA is looming on the horizon. UK police forces are trialling [testing] technology that allows ordinary police officers to analyse DNA samples in custody suites after a 2-week training course.

Police custody suites are hardly sterile areas, and a 2-week training course is hardly likely to turn plod into a forensic scientist, yet the proposal is that ordinary police officers will soon be able to input DNA profiles directly into the National DNA Database.”

Here is the US connection with HITDNA (LCN).

“The DNA ‘RapidHIT’ machines were developed by IntegenX in the US and are marketed in the UK by Key Forensic Services. Police forces who have trialled, or are currently trialling the machines, are the Metropolitan Police, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire together with other undisclosed forces.”

Read the last paragraph in the short article to get a real chill about ‘police science’ use of originally university-based DNA now morphed into commerically based for-profit police applications.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in AAFS, ABFO, Bad Forensic Science, Bite Marks, Bitemarks, criminal justice reform, CSI, Forensic Science Bias and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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