Attorney General Requests Public Comments on Improving Forensic Science

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Notice of Public Comment Period on Advancing Forensic Science Docket No. OLP 160

AGENCY: Department of Justice.

ACTION: Request for public comment. NOTE: This is an advance copy of a notice submitted to the Federal Register. This document contains unofficial text. The official text will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Federal Register and posted on www.regulations.gov.

SUMMARY: It is the Department’s mission to ensure public safety and provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime. Advancing the practice of forensic science is an important part of that effort. The more effective a forensic system we have, the better equipped we are to solve crimes, more swiftly absolving the innocent and bringing the guilty to justice. The second term of the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) is set to expire on April 23, 2017. As part of the Department’s continued efforts to advance the practice of forensic science following NCFS’s expiration, the Department is seeking comment on how the Department should move forward to (1) evaluate and improve the underlying science of forensic evidence; (2) improve the operational management systems of forensic science service providers; and (3) improve the understanding of forensic science by legal practitioners. DATES: Written public comment regarding the issue for comment should be submitted through www.regulations.gov before June 9, 2017.

Investigation into triple slayings in Jupiter remains active

JUPITER (CBS12) — More than 40 hours after bullets rang out along Mohawk Street, a Jupiter Police mobile command unit remains parked outside of the home where three people died.

We watched Tuesday afternoon as crime scene techs and investigators walked on and off of the property, still roped off with crime scene tape. It’s a property on a quiet street that’s still an active crime scene.

Palm Beach Atlantic University Forensics Professor Tiffany Roy knows how to process a crime scene. She spent five years with the Massachusetts State Police working with their DNA crime lab unit.

http://cbs12.com/news/local/investigation-into-triple-slayings-in-jupiter-remains-active

Gill: How misuse of DNA evidence has led to miscarriages of justice

DNA analysis has revolutionised forensic science; helping to catch prolific murderers and shining a light on miscarriages of justice that have seen innocent people wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Such is the power of DNA to identify, convict, and exonerate, that many perceive it to be infallible. Yet DNA evidence has a number of limitations and the costs of not being aware of these can be huge.

As a forensic geneticist of 35 years standing, I have been very closely involved with every stage of the development of DNA profiling since its discovery in 1985. Yet over recent years, I have become particularly concerned with standards of practice and the court statements written by some forensic scientists.

Read more here

What are jurors thinking when they hear expert evidence

Based on these tests, Schweitzer et al found that jurors’ opinions of the forensic evidence presented is most heavily swayed by the expert’s experience level. Other factors, such as whether the evidence was obtained by high or low tech means, or whether or not the methods used had been scientifically validated only minimally impacted the views of the jury. It’s important to note, however, that while the expert’s experience level effected opinions on the evidence presented, it did not impact the final verdict.

Read more here

After Lab Closure, Daunting Questions on DNA-based Convictions Remain

The shuttering of the Austin Police Department’s forensics lab after an audit found unscientific protocols and contamination of evidence has delayed pending cases and led to a debate about how the lab should be operated.

Now, the Travis County district attorney’s office is faced with another chunk of the problem: Figuring out how many cases were resolved using possibly bad DNA evidence.

Thousands of people — defense attorneys estimate 4,000 to 5,000, while prosecutors say fewer than 3,600 — were convicted using evidence processed by the Police Department’s forensics lab between 2004 and 2016, when lab procedures might have been compromised. The Capital Area Private Defender Service, which represents area defense attorneys, said in a report this month that anywhere from 1 percent to 40 percent could see their convictions overturned.

That wide range makes it clear how little anyone knows about the actual scope of the forensics flaws. It spells a daunting task for local officials as they come up with a plan to fund a review of those cases and potential retesting of evidence.

Read more.

Source: American-Statesman

How DNA Evidence Went From Airtight to Error-Prone

Blind faith in any technology can be dangerous -- especially when it comes to areas of forensic science such as DNA fingerprinting. For example, if police have “DNA evidence” against a suspect, most juries will assume that’s proof of guilt. But while the technology for analyzing DNA has become vastly more sensitive since it was first introduced in courts in the 1990s, crime labs are working with ever more minute traces -- sometimes just a few molecules -- and drawing inconsistent or erroneous conclusions from them. In fact, there’s good reason to believe DNA evidence has sent people to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Read more here.

DA to reopen 2000 closed cases in Broward County with DNA errors

Two years ago, Boynton Beach forensic expert Tiffany Roy was hired to double-check DNA evidence swabbed from a knife handle. What she found was troubling: The Broward Sheriff’s Office crime lab had mistakenly claimed it was conclusive.

It wasn’t.

As New Times previously reported, Roy complained to the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, which investigated and agreed with her findings.

Now, the crime lab faces revocation of its accreditation, and the Broward State Attorney’s Office will likely have to reopen thousands of closed cases.

Read more at Broward New Times

PCAST Report Final Issued

Report on Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods

On September 20, 2016, PCAST released a Report to the President on Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison

https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports

No More 'Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty'

Forensic science, already under review and scrutiny from an alphabet-soup of federal agencies, is getting another reining-in from the Department of Justice.

Terms such as “reasonable scientific certainty” can no longer be used, DOJ labs have to post internal validation studies online, and forensic scientists will be expected to uphold a 16-part “Code of Professional Responsibility for the Practice of Forensic Science,” announced Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, in a memorandum last week.

Read more on forensic magazine.com here

Subjective DNA Mixture Analysis, Used in Thousands of Cases, Blasted by WH Panel

DNA mixtures can by mind-bogglingly complex. The genetic traces of more than two people can create statistical chaos indicating someone’s DNA is included, or excluded, from a sample – based simply on the judgment of the person doing the testing.

This chaos has been interpreted by mathematical forensic analysis. But it involves subjective estimations by trained experts.

Read more at forensic magazine.