Monday, September 25, 2006

Microstamping: Cost vs. Benefit

submit by troy m; comments by blogger jgl

Neat idea (click headline). If they only could stamp the bullet too. Almost everyone agrees that microstamping would be a good thing in many/few cases. Of course, there is a slight difference of opinion as to the cost.

A new, ultra-precise laser technology can engrave the entire alphabet on the tip of a ballpoint pen. It's called microstamping, and it's got the attention of some law enforcement officials, intrigued by its potential use in solving gun crimes...

...For two years, the California Legislature has considered bills mandating that all new handguns be manufactured with microstamping, through which a weapon's firing pin engraves the serial number, make and model on bullet casings...

...Keane and other gun industry representatives say the technology is flawed primarily because the microscopic etchings can be easily filed off using common household tools. They also say it could cost up to $150 per firearm...

..."This is technology that would cost manufacturers from 50 cents to a dollar," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, countering the cost argument.

Give or take $149.50.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lawyers "Don't Get" Science

submit by troy m; comments by blogger jgl

I always knew the juries didn't understand evidence, but the lawyers too?

Judith Fordham said that when she was working as a lawyer, before becoming an associate professor in forensic science, she realised how little she and her colleagues knew about forensics...

..."I found that jurors wanted to ask questions about scientific and medical evidence in court because lawyers hadn't asked the right questions,'' said Prof Fordham, who still practises as a barrister while working at Murdoch University.

"Many lawyers have also never learnt how to present forensic evidence because they have no scientific training, despite the huge rise in the use of such evidence.

"So people are potentially being convicted or acquitted wrongly because lawyers don't know enough about science -- it's scary."

I think this may trump up the effects resulting from a lawyer's lack of scientific knowledge.
Since when does a lawyer have to know what he/she is talking about?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

DNA Databases gone awry?

by team UAB, jla

If we, as a society, continue to solely rely on DNA databases for conviction of crimes, then what's next? Profiling based on genetic code could become a possibility (anyone seen the movie Gataca?).

In Britain, a national criminal database established in 1995 now contains 2.5 million DNA samples. Countries including the United States and Canada are developing similar systems.

Jeffreys, who was knighted in 1994, welcomes DNA databases but has qualms about how the British one has been set up. He fears that stored DNA samples could be used to extract information about a person’s medical history, ethnic origin or psychological profile.

And he opposes the practice, approved by a British court in 2002, of retaining DNA samples from suspects who are acquitted, leading to a “criminal” database that contains many people guilty of no crime.

“My view is, that is discriminatory,” Jeffreys said. “It works on a premise that the suspect population, even if innocent, is more likely to offend in the future.”

Jeffreys advocates a truly national database including every individual, with strict restrictions on what information could be stored.

“There is the long-term risk that people can get into these samples and start teasing out additional information” about a person’s paternity or risk of disease, he said. “The police have absolutely no right to that sort of information.”.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Forensics to prove Big Foot?

by team UAB, kpf

Is this really what Forensic Science is coming to? I doubt it, but some scientists dont really know where to draw the line between real and fairytale!

Yet a small but vociferous number of scientists remain undeterred. Risking ridicule from other academics, they propose that there's enough forensic evidence to warrant something that has never been done: a comprehensive, scientific study to determine if the legendary primate actually exists..."Given the scientific evidence that I have examined, I'm convinced there's a creature out there that is yet to be identified," said Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

What are your thoughts on this notion?

Forensics on trial: Chemical matching of bullets comes under fire

by team UAB, hjt

I wonder if this means that the FBI and others will now have to go back and reexamine cases is which a conviction was made solely based on the bullet lead chemical analysis. How do you get to be a forensic metallurgist?

In 1997, a jury convicted Michael Behm of murdering a man in South River, N.J. The only physical evidence linking Behm to the murder was bullet fragments from the crime scene. An FBI examiner testified in court that the fragments chemically matched bullets from a box of ammunition Behm had at his home.

Since that trial, a growing body of research has revealed that the practice of chemically matching bullets is seriously flawed. This February, a report released by the National Academies in Washington D.C. called on the FBI to revise its rules on interpreting data from chemical analyses of bullets and to limit how its examiners testify about such data in the courtroom. The FBI has used chemical analysis of bullets in some 2,500 investigations since the early 1980s. Among those, there were 500 cases in which the prosecution introduced such analyses as evidence during trials. But the story of bullet chemical analysis has even broader implications; it emphasizes the need to keep science honest, especially in the courtroom.

Robotics Put To Use In DNA South African Lab

by team UAB, jkl

I'm not sure how I feel about this new robotics system. It will increase lab productivity while decreasing staffing requirements. I guess we'll see how things go for South Africa...

The South African Police Service (SAPS) today unveiled a R75 million robotics system at its brand new Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria.
There has been criticism in recent weeks of South Africa's DNA testing capabilities, and the SAPS says no other law enforcement agency in the world has anything like it, as it combines the latest technology into a single system. The system can handle 800 DNA samples per day and runs 24hours, seven days a week...
Greyling says the concept of laboratory automation is common in that liquid handling machines are used all over the world as part of the DNA testing procedure, but in this case there is no further contact between man and machine once the evidence is submitted, right up to where the forensic report is printed.
He says the new robotics system will greatly increase capacity at the lab. Currently, 50 analysts manually process between 200 to 300 samples per day. The new system can process a maximum of 800 samples daily.

Incompetence in England's Home Office

by team UAB,eea

I found this article both a little comforting and frightening at the same time. Comforting because forensic evidence got the right people behind bars; frightening because the Home Office's Forensic Science Service missed such obvious evidence.

Detective Superintendent Nick Ephgrave, who took over the running of the investigation at the end of the first trial, asked a different laboratory, run by private firm Forensic Alliance, to re-examine all the items in the case.

The lab found that a bloodstain on a shoe, easily visible to the human eye, had been missed along with blood drops and fibres on the suspects' other clothes.

The police investigation alone into the killing has cost almost $7.6 million.

Who trains these people anyway?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The "CSI Effect"

by blogger ala

I think this article contains some very valid points about the effects that television shows have on forensic investigations. I mean, do we really need to give criminals any advantages?

"But while this interest is sexing up the image of scientists, is it also stopping police catching criminals and securing convictions?"

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

UK Serial Rapist Sentenced

by team UAB, lsw

I saw this as a news channel headline yesterday. Interesting that they found this guy after 20 years, and that a DNA profile from his sister led to his capture:

Ms Wright said Lloyd was caught after South Yorkshire Police decided to reopen the case five years ago.

DNA from samples at the time were compared with samples on the police database.

More than 40 close matches were eventually obtained and the third house police knocked on turned out to be that of Lloyd's sister, whose sample had been taken when she was arrested for drink-driving.

Brain Fingerprinting, The New Lie Detector

by team UAB,slh

As much as I want to believe this, I am having some doubts. Like, what if something happened so long ago, that I forget it. Perhaps, no one could forget comitting a murder.

The most popular method of lie detection in use today is the polygraph machine, developed in the 1930s, but its accuracy is widely disputed. That's one reason why, in the Department of Justice's investigation of the more than 1,200 people so far detained in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, the polygraph may be joined by at least one new lie detection mechanism.

It's been dubbed "brain fingerprinting" by its architect, former Harvard Medical School faculty member Lawrence Farwell. Farwell's lie detection method kicks in before a person even has the chance to lie by looking for a telltale brainwave after a subject is flashed a cue having something to do with the crime — such as the murder weapon, the direction the victim was facing, etc. That brainwave only appears if the person has a memory of that information stored in their brain.
In that way, says Farwell, "it doesn't really detect lying at all. It detects information stored in the brain. But if someone has committed a crime, they have a record of that in their brain, and we can detect if they have the details of a specific crime stored in their mind."