When crime labs go rogue. Safety suffers. Honesty seems more doubtful.

houck copy

Max Houck (@maxmhouck) used to run the Washington DC Forensic Science facility which then boasted as being “independent” a la Houston’s Forensic Science Center. Above is his Twitter response to and post about police managers refusing an open and transparent scientific disclosure of their methods and results. During Houck’s tenure at the DFS , access to forensic results and methods was non-confrontational (e;g; not limited to prosecutors). Since then, after his having been dismissed/resigned, the doors have been shut tight by the DC mayor and District Attorney’s new appointee, an ex-FBI lab manager. This raises barriers to fair justice as this type of forensic lab “protectionism” is akin to police body-camera non-disclosures or deletions.  Most recent examples in Chicago and North Carolina.

This is not merely a theory. It is a common forensic occurrence.

If you are are not transparent, then it isn’t science that you are practicing. It is an ultra- simple concept but it roils against what is spun at national forensic science meetings. Science demands both testing AND reproducibility testing results. This has to occur In real time when actual cases are in progress. Not years after a conviction. Non disclosure blocks these principles and is dishonest. Science without any real accountability for errors and omissions isn’t “real” science. Science isn’t perfect, but it at least has mechanisms in place that thwart the worst of the worst. My opine is that crime lab certifications aren’t predictive of consistently reliable crime lab forensic practices either. At best they are snap shots of testing compliance and are too closely aligned with the public rancor over “self policing” seen in the law enforcement community.

In another context, these stories keep getting worse and worse. Media scrutiny is at high alert because of wrongful conviction litigation, debunked forensic examiners and their methods. All speak poorly of law enforcement led “science-based” crime lab management. This behavior sadly parallels  police-unions’ defensive agendas which include denials, retribution, threats and mis-information.

More of the same from New York state.

ALBANY — Hundreds of crimes are going unsolved, and some innocent people may have been wrongly convicted, because the State Police refused to implement a new computer software program that has transformed DNA analysis, according to a former longtime director at the State Police crime laboratory.

Barry Duceman, who abruptly retired in 2014 after working 26 years as the director of biological science at the State Police Forensic Investigation Center, said in a recent series of interviews that key State Police officials, including the lab’s new director, worked to scuttle the agency’s use of the program, TrueAllele, and may have used a cheating scandal that implicated 15 scientists as an excuse to kill the project. TimesUnion.

One of the fallouts is that the state’s top DNA lab has a backlog of about 1,400 cases, up from more than 800 less than two years ago. The time it’s taking to process evidence in criminal cases has also doubled to more than 30 days, according to people briefed on the lab’s caseload reports.

A State Police spokesman last week declined to respond to Duceman’s comments, citing an unrelated federal civil rights lawsuit filed by three scientists who claim they were wrongly targeted for termination two years ago when the agency accused them of cheating on training exams. The agency also declined to provide information about the lab’s caseload.

Ray A. Wickenheiser, director of the State Police crime laboratories since 2013, acknowledged last year in a deposition that several people within the State Police, including Steve Hogan, a deputy general counsel, and Julie Pizziketti, an assistant director in the DNA lab, “had significant concerns” about using TrueAllele. Wickenheiser declined a request to be interviewed for this story. TimesUnion.

Here’s the backstory.

Ex NY crime lab scientists sue claiming retribution. 



About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in criminal justice, criminal justice reform, CSI, DNA mixtures and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When crime labs go rogue. Safety suffers. Honesty seems more doubtful.

  1. csidds says:

    Reblogged this on FORENSICS in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends and commented:

    Max Houck
    @csidds The more I read about the NY Lab issue, the more questions I have. With lawsuit, probably won’t see the documents for some time.

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