Category Archives: Editorial

The Justice Department is squandering progress in forensic science

Imagine this: A cop pulls you over and arrests you because you match the description of someone wanted for a heinous crime. You are innocent, but after being charged and brought to trial, you watch as experts testify with “scientific certainty” that hair and footprints at the scene match your own, and you are led from the courtroom in shackles.
This may seem like a scene straight out of a TV melodrama, but this scenario happens in real life far too often. A number of forensic techniques — including hair- and footprint-matching, mark analysis, bloodstain-pattern analysis and others — lack scientific validity and reliability yet are used frequently in our nation’s courtrooms.

Jeff Sessions’ Rejection of Science Leaves Local Prosecutors in the Dark

There’s a stack of file folders on District Attorney John Hummel’s desk that won’t stop staring at him. The folders contain the cases of defendants whose convictions were called into question when a state crime lab technician in Bend, Oregon, part of Hummel’s district, was caught tampering with evidence in 2015. The breach may have impacted more than 1,100 cases. Hummel’s office has been steadily reviewing them ever since—of the 500 cases that have been reviewed so far, 30 convictions have been vacated and those cases dismissed.

Sessions’s Assault On Forensic Science Will Lead To More Unsafe Convictions-an editorial

…Without an entity to enable forensic science to prioritize research and then streamline, simplify and accelerate forensic reform, I fear that advancements will languish and we will soon return to our old ways. Rather than lament the death of NCFS, however, I call upon universities and crime labs to partner together in forensic science reform…

Sessions Is Wrong to Take Science Out of Forensic Science

The New York times – Prosecutors applauded the April 10 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice was disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science and returning forensic science to law enforcement control. In the same statement, Mr. Sessions suspended the department’s review of closed cases for inaccurate or unsupported statements by forensic analysts, which regularly occur in fields as diverse as firearm and handwriting identification, and hair, fiber, shoe, bite mark and tire tread matching, and even fingerprinting analysis.

US police agencies with their own DNA databases stir debate

DNA seqDozens of police departments around the U.S. are amassing their own DNA databases to track criminals, a move critics say is a way around regulations governing state and national databases that restrict who can provide genetic samples and how long that information is held.

The Saga of My Rape Kit

sexual assault kit imageCambridge, England — MY rape kit was created on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 12, 1992, at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tiny pieces of evidence were swabbed, plucked and combed from me: bits of me and, they hoped, bits of him, to be used in court one day to prove who had done this to me. Like many evidence kits collected at that time, it was not analyzed for DNA, and became part of what is called the backlog: untested rape kits across the country, which number at minimum in the tens of thousands.

Congress should support access to post-conviction DNA testing

Justice and DNA1I’ll never forget how lonely I felt when the jury announced its guilty verdict and the courtroom erupted in applause. I thought, how could this happen? It felt surreal, but soon after reality sunk in: I could spend the rest of my life in prison until the state of Maryland executed me. I spent eight years, 11 months and 19 days locked away — two of those years on death row — for a rape and murder that I did not commit, before post-conviction DNA testing proved my innocence.

Will Philly End Its Rape Kit Backlog?

end-the-backlog-map-940x540Red states, blue states and Congress are all making it a priority. In Philadelphia… it’s complicated.

Can we still rely on DNA sampling to crack crime?

ProfileIn 1988, Pitchfork admitted raping and murdering two 15-year-old girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, after his DNA matched samples found at the scene of both crimes.
The former baker was caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, in which 5,000 men in three villages in Leicestershire were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples; he’d initially evaded capture by getting a friend to take the test for him.

Can’t Fix the System’s Use of Forensic Science Without Fixing the Science

NeufeldRay Krone was convicted of murder in Phoenix, Ariz., and sentenced to death. The key evidence used to convict him was the testimony of a certified forensic dentist who concluded that a bite mark on the deceased came from Krone. Ten years later (fortunately before he was executed), D.N.A. testing proved the dentist was wrong, cleared Krone and identified the real perpetrator, who was in prison for a subsequent sexual assault.

A Missed Opportunity to Find Rapists

sexual assault kitsChecks of police department storage facilities often turn up hundreds, even thousands, of untested rape kits. Some of those kits contain saliva, semen, blood, hair and other DNA evidence taken from victims of recent sexual assaults. Others have been sitting on the shelves unopened for years without analysis or entry of any profiles into state and national databases. Each untested kit represents a botched chance to solve a case and identify other crimes perpetrated by an assailant.

Wrongly imprisoned man: Fix New Jersey’s DNA testing law (Opinion)

DNA Helix 2Imagine spending 19 years in prison for a murder you did not commit. Imagine enduring the indignities of life behind bars, and missing out on the lives of your children and grandchildren, knowing that you are innocent. Imagine that while you sit in a cell, the real killer is somewhere out there, possibly destroying other lives.

Rape kit testing backlog undermines justice for victims

sexual assault kitsIn Cleveland, Ohio, a serial rapist and murderer was convicted of crimes last year that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life. His case made the headlines because his neighbor was Ariel Castro, the man who kept three young women hostage as sex slaves for years. Following Castro’s high-profile arrest, investigators began re-examining Cleveland’s cold cases and processing their backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, known as “rape kits.” One such rape kit, collected in 1993 but not tested until 2013, helped the FBI link Castro’s neighbor, Elias Acevedo Sr., to two murders and multiple rapes.

Written in Blood review: Forensic look at the science of crime

crime sceneMIKE SILVERMAN goes after the guilty – it’s in his DNA. And it’s not just criminals who are brought to book by his finely honed forensic skills.
As one of the UK’s leading forensic scientists he has helped put murderers, rapists, armed robbers, burglars and muggers behind bars.
In this self-examination of a distinguished career Silverman also points the finger at the politicians and finds them guilty in his eyes of crimes against the justice system.

What the Supreme Court Hasn’t Told You About DNA Databases

profilesindna_frIn this article David Kaye, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University School of Law, discusses the recent US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Maryland versus King, where the constitutionality of DNA collection before conviction was challenged.