Forensics News

New NAS Report on Eyewitness Identification

October 2, 2014 – The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released a new report on eyewitness identification –  “Identifying the Culprit:  Assessing Eyewitness Identification.”  The report reviews thirty years of research on memory and eyewitness ID and provides recommendations for police practices and court procedures.

Note that the report of the SJC Study Group on Eyewitness Evidence here.

Crime Labs and Forensics Issues in the News:

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies  have radars that let them “see” inside homes

January 20, 2015 – from USA Today:  “At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.”  Click on the link above to read more.

12 DNA forensic scientists seeking True Allele credentials have been taken off cases

January 17, 2015 – In Albany, New York, forensic DNA scientists were removed from their duties due to alleged cheating to obtain credentials to train for a new type of DNA testing called True Allele.

Important new decision on Eyewitness Identification – Comm. v. Gomes

January 12, 2015 – In Commonwealth v Gomes, the SJC issued a new provisional jury instruction on eyewitness ID that incorporates some of the knowledge and information in the SJC Study Group report on Eyewitness Evidence (see link above.)  The SJC is seeking comments on the provisional jury instruction and leaves open the possibility of revising the current instruction.

ACLU seeks aid for Annie Dookhan convicts 

January 5, 2015 – The ACLU is asking the SJC to protect defendants who seek new trials in     Dookhan cases from “vindictive prosecution.”

Senators question FBI about cell-tower spoofing

January 2, 2015 “Two U.S. senators are questioning whether the FBI has granted itself too much leeway on when it can use decoy cellphone towers to scoop up data on the identities and locations of cellphone users. The lawmakers say the agency now says it doesn’t need a search warrant when gathering data about people milling around in public spaces.”

Rejecting shaken baby claim, judge blasts UIHC doc

December 24th, 2014- A judge has found an Iowa man not guilty of shaking and injuring his newborn baby, sharply criticizing a doctor at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for mishandling the investigation into the child’s injuries… Prosecutors failed to prove former Davenport resident Peter Ranke abused the 3-week-old child, whose injuries to the brain and bones may have been caused by other medical conditions, District Judge John Telleen ruled…

Coroner resigns after being banned from crime scenes

December 11th, 2014 – “After what he did to a dead man’s body last month, Coroner Terry Jarnigan better stay away from any and all crime scenes and dead bodies in Cocke County.

That’s the ruling from Cocke County Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper, following a request for help by [the] Fourth Judicial District Attorney General…”

Mandatory DNA collection during arrest is unconstitutional, court says

December 4th, 2014 – “A state appeals court decided unanimously Wednesday that California’s practice of taking DNA from people arrested for felonies — though not necessarily convicted or even charged — violates the state constitution.  The decision, handed down by an appeals panel here, is likely to be appealed to the California Supreme Court.”

Additional DNA Testing Required in Md. Cases

December 3rd, 2014 – “Maryland’s highest court has ruled that criminal defendants can’t present evidence of DNA matches to other suspects at trial unless additional testing has confirmed the results.”

Hard questions after litany of forensic failures at US labs

December 1st, 2014 – “At least five high profile cases of serious malpractice at US forensic crime labs have come to light in the last two years, most resulting in the arrest of chemists working there. These scandals have called into question key evidence used in criminal cases, and have resulted in hundreds convictions being overturned. And this malpractice had led critics to ask a bigger question. Is something rotten at the heart of US forensic science?”

Older links

Man freed from prison after 24-year-old arson conviction overturned in daughter’s death

August 24th, 2014 – HARRISBURG, Pa. — “A former New York businessman whose arson-murder conviction was overturned in the death of his daughter was freed from prison Friday after 24 years, following a judge’s ruling that the case against him was based on now-debunked arson science.”

Columbus crime-lab error might affect 38 cases

August 8th, 2014 – Columbus, Ohio – “At least 38 closed cases could be affected by a DNA-related mistake in the Columbus police crime lab, and one felon already has asked for a new trial, the Franklin County prosecutor said this week.”

Broward Crime Lab scandal could taint many cases

August 6th, 2014 – Miami, Florida – “Kadesha Roberts was camped out at a friend’s condo in a cookie-cutter, tile-roofed development off McNab Road when the knock came. The short Jamaican woman with spiked hair opened the door to find a UPS man clutching a large package. After identifying herself, she grabbed it.

Then all hell broke loose.”

Attorney: Snow wants chance to argue for DNA tests

August 5th, 2014 – “Fifteen months is a long time to wait for a hearing date on whether forensic testing should be conducted on evidence, say lawyers for a Bloomington man serving life in prison for a murder he claims he did not commit. 

Advocates for Jamie Snow say they are hopeful the appointment of a new judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit will mean progress in Snow’s efforts to argue his innocence in the 1991 murder of Bill Little.”

FBI errors throw forensic convictions into question

August 1st, 2014 – “Holding your hands up and saying “we got things wrong” is a difficult thing to do. But that’s exactly what the FBI and US Department of Justice have had to do this week, the initial results were released of an ongoing review of thousands of criminal cases in which FBI scientists’ testimony may have led to wrongful convictions – including for some people now on death row.”

Four Questions About the FBI Lab Scandal

July 30th, 2014 – “Another front-page story about the FBI Lab Scandal appeared in the Washington Post today.  In this story, we learned that the FBI unilaterally stopped reviewing thousands of criminal cases to determine if tainted forensic evidence was used to obtain convictions simply because the FBI did not like the results of the review.  It turned out that “nearly every case” the FBI reviewed included flawed evidence or testimony from the FBI Lab.  So the FBI stopped looking at the cases in August of 2013.”

Judge Says Texas Man Should Be Exonerated in Rape

July 25th, 2014 – “A Dallas man who prosecutors say did not commit a 1990 rape for which he served 12 years in prison should be exonerated based on recent DNA testing he did not request, a judge recommended Friday.

The conviction of 57-year-old Michael Phillips should be vacated, Dallas County Criminal District Court Judge Gracie Lewis said. The matter now goes to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; it was not immediately clear when the court would make a ruling.”

Man exonerated in 1982 D.C. killing; DNA reveals FBI error in conviction

July 21st, 2014 – “A D.C. Superior Court judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison in the 1982 killing of a Washington woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in the District have acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit had led to a conviction that should be overturned.”