Forensic Scientist Newsletter – NY Legal Aid Society

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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!

About csidds

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