In The News


2015-03-02 | The Law has Failed, Not Forensic Science
Yet just when leaders in the forensic science community find themselves on the cusp of getting help, their efforts are hijacked by legal reform specialists and willing accomplices who quickly shift the conversation from helping forensic science to blaming it. That is precisely what happened with the creation of the NAS committee on forensic science, which forensic science leaders in the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors pleaded the federal government to create in an effort to identify the “needs” of the forensic science community. As it turned out, the committee’s final report was a stab in the back.

2015-02-28 | The Law has Failed, Not Forensic Science
Forensic science, of course, needs help. It is underfunded, inadequately supported, and misunderstood by attorneys, judges, and elected officials. Since it struggles so mightily to keep pace with the demand for its services, how could it possibly summon the strength to correct the fictional narrative?

2015-02-25 | Houston's Rape Kit Backlog Is Finally Getting Attention: FBI Database Finds 850 DNA Matches
Houston is finally making good on its promise to test more than 6,000 rape kits. The Associated Press reported this week 29 people have been charged after the untested rape kits, which were completed in the fall, turned up 850 hits in the FBI’s nationwide database. Of those people, six have been convicted. Mayor Annise Parker said this is a milestone for rape survivors and their families and friends, “because it means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago.” In some cases, this could be as far back as 30 years.

2015-02-25 | Your DNA is everywhere. Can the police analyze it?
A human sheds as much as 100 pounds of DNA-containing material in a lifetime and about 30,000 skin cells an hour. But who owns that DNA is the latest modern-day privacy issue before the US Supreme Court. At its core, the issue focuses on whether we must live in a hermetically sealed bubble to avoid potentially having our genetic traits catalogued and analyzed by the government.

2015-02-25 | The path forward on bite mark matching — and the rearview mirror
Reform, of course, is a long process, but in the field of bite mark matching — which again was the forensics specialty the NAS report singled out for some of its harshest criticism — the “path forward” looks to be obstructed. That’s probably because with bite mark matching, the debate isn’t just about adopting better standards or practices, but also about whether the field should exist at all. “Most people in forensic odontology are practicing dentists, or academics. They don’t make their living doing bite mark analysis,” says Michael Saks, an Arizona State University law professor who studies the role of science in criminal law. “They do it on the side. Many of these cases involve sex crimes and crimes against children. So they see themselves as avenging angels. They’re protecting the weak. They’re putting away the bad guys. Then along come critics like Michael Bowers or the Bushes, calling their good work into question. You can see why they’d be angry, even though Bowers and the Bushes are right.”

2015-02-24 | Battling Bias: AAFS Panel Discusses Cognitive Bias
Treating all criminal cases fairly in the face of cognitive bias was at the forefront of the “Human Factors in Forensic Science” discussion at this year’s AAFS Plenary Session. The discussion featured some of the top academics and practitioners in the field, and highlighted the importance and difficulty of recognizing cognitive bias, and the necessity to diminish its effects.

2015-02-23 | While some rape kits sat untested, suspects committed more assaults
As Houston officials Monday trumpeted the completion of DNA testing on a three-decade backlog of sexual assault kits, they also acknowledged that while the DNA of some alleged rapists went untested, the suspects committed other sexual crimes.

2015-02-22 | Berman: The saga of rapist Joseph Blackmer’s DNA
The Blackmer case demonstrates how decisively DNA evidence changed the crime-solving process, and reinforces Worthy’s decision to test “every one” of the rape kits she located in a Detroit Police Department storage area in 2011. The appeals court decision bolsters the argument for analyzing even old cases.

2015-02-20 | It literally started with a witch hunt: A history of bite mark evidence
And yet the court was wrong. Stinson spent 23 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him. Stinson never bit the victim. All of the argumentation about set-back incisors, flared teeth and the arch of the mouth, all of that evidence that screamed guilt — to a moral certainty no less — it was all nonsense. Yet the court never made any effort to correct its mistake. As Fabricant and Carrington point out in their article, State v. Stinson is still the controlling precedent for bite mark evidence in Wisconsin. That the man whose name appears in the case was actually innocent doesn’t seem to matter.

2015-02-20 | How the flawed ‘science’ of bite mark analysis has sent innocent people to prison
Burke was held in jail for 41 days. He was released when DNA testing on saliva recovered from the bite mark excluded him. Five years later, DNA from the saliva around bite mark hit a match in the FBI’s Combined Index DNA System (CODIS). The match was to a man already convicted of murder. Prosecutor William Keating, who took office after Burke’s arrest, told the Chicago Tribune he had “no question” that Burke was innocent.

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