Major Forensic News from the DNA Newsletter by the NY Legal Aid Society

Forensics in the News

Low Copy Number DNA Testing Continues to be Questioned (NY Times, ABC News)

In the wake of Marina Stajic’s lawsuit against the NYC OCME, alleging in part that she was forced to retire because of questions she raised about the OCME’s novel low copy number (LCN) DNA testing method, the NY Times Science Section looks into the questionable science. The article explores the problems with LCN testing: “Low copy number DNA analysis can…give incorrect results when it pushes PCR chemistry beyond its limits.” Especially troubling is the use of LCN testing in criminal cases where an error can falsely incriminate a person.

Big ups to the Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit, referenced in the NY Times article
and quoted in the ABC News article for our success in an extensive Frye hearing
(People v. Collins/Peaks) where we zealously defended our clients and made sure
questionable LCN evidence was found inadmissible. 

DOJ to review FBI’s forensic science practices “to ensure that experts are not overstating their findings against criminal defendants” (Washington Post)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced at the annual American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference last week that the Department of Justice will begin to audit testimony from pattern-based FBI forensic science units to examine whether government experts had exaggerated scientific evidence in favor of the prosecution: The DOJ audit of expert testimony comes less than a year after an investigation revealed “at least 90% of trial transcripts [the FBI] analyzed as part of its Microscopic Hair Comparison Analysis Review contained erroneous statements,” and is the first broad government response to the implications of “testimonial overstatements” from forensic science experts.
Read Yates’ full statement here
Related: ABC News

A new bill that would allow rapid DNA test results into CODIS raises privacy concerns (New Republic)

Rapid DNA devices are portable machines that can render DNA results within two hours. Although proponents of the technology laud its efficiency, rapid DNA tests are expensive and have limited sensitivity. The Department of Homeland Security will begin implementing the new technology “to vet the identity and kinship claims of refugees and immigrants.” Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at EFF, has argued that the “continued storage of genetic samples from asylum seekers of certain races or ethnicities could leave these overrepresented communities more vulnerable to false matches when the database is searched in the future.”
Related: Rapid DNA Bill, FBI Rapid DNA FAQ

“State FOIA: Secret DNA Forensic Source Code”: The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has received records and validation studies in response to a FOIA request pertaining to California’s use of STRmix DNA analysis software. Efforts ongoing (EPIC)

The NY Department of Motor Vehicles has upgraded its facial recognition technology to target ID fraud, now recognizes 128 facial measurement points (Gothamist)

One point Apple, 0 points FBI: In addition to the San Bernardino matter, the DOJ has ordered Apple to unlock 9 additional cases – all of which are unrelated to terrorism/national security. A big win for Apple out of NY yesterday, when a federal judge ruled in Apple’s favor. Notably, the NY case deals with encryption, which would require less of Apple than the San Bernardino case which requires Apple create an operating system.
Read Apple’s Motion to Vacate and EDNY Decision
Related: Wired, Washington Post

Documents show U.S. Marshals Service used StingRay devices to track down almost 6,000 suspects, agency declined to disclose time period or arrest status (USA Today)

Oklahoma legislature votes against bill that would mandate DNA testing of persons arrested on felony charges (Washington Times)

The government of Antigua (U.S. Virgin Islands) to vote on bill that would require any person charged with a “felony, violent crime or misdemeanor sexual offense” to submit a DNA sample (Antigua Observer)

California Attorney General sponsors bill that would implement tracking of DNA evidence throughout the state via online databases operated by the California DOJ. Under the new bill, law enforcement would have access to the CODIS Hit Outcome Project (CHOP), “which enables agencies to share confidential information about the outcomes of DNA matches; and the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database, which will enable the state to track the collection and processing of sexual assault evidence kits.” (Highland News)

A bill has been introduced into the Washington state legislature that would “prevent any surreptitious collection of personal information from users, particularly when biometric identifiers may be captured or disclosed for a commercial purpose.” (Planet Biometrics)

A new app called Helix wants to “collect a spit sample from anyone who buys a DNA app, sequence and analyze the customers’ genes, and then digitize the findings so they can be accessed by software developers who want to sell other apps.” (MIT Technology Review)

A new study shows that certain species of flies can carry DNA from crime scenes and deposit forensic evidence in other places when they defecate (National Geographic)

GeneMatcher allows patients with rare genetic mutations to connect to researchers, patients with same genetic mutation (CNN)

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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