Sunday, November 25, 2007

DNA Database Effective, But Not Utilized to Full Potential

By Team UAB bs

Now it seems commonplace for states to have CODIS, a DNA database for convicted felons and crime scene evidence. Too bad it's not as common to test old evidence.

"Studies of wrongful convictions suggest that there are thousands more innocent people in jails and prisons. The Innocence Project, the nation’s most prominent organization devoted to proving wrongful convictions, is pursuing 250 cases and at any given time is reviewing 6,000 to 10,000 additional cases for legal action. Approximately 1 percent of those cases will be accepted, and half of those accepted cases are closed because evidence has been lost or destroyed."

DNA from old cases where the technology was not as sensitive or perhaps not yet available should now be reviewed to see if there is a match, or not.

"In a 2005 study, a University of Michigan Law School professor, Samuel R. Gross, estimated that 340 prisoners sentenced from 1989 to 2003 had been exonerated."

That's an average of nearly 25 people per year! I realize funding is an issue, but really what's more cost effective; paying someone to work on evidence to release what would probably far exceed 25 innocent people per year, or losing years of potential freedom and settling for thousands or millions of dollars in damages once they are released.

"The most recent prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence was Dwayne Allen Dail, who served 18 years in North Carolina for a false conviction of child rape. Prosecutors had used the victim’s identification of Mr. Dail and hair found at the crime scene to convict him. Years later, after repeated inquires from defense lawyers, the police found a box of additional evidence in the case that contained the victim’s semen-stained nightgown. DNA analysis ruled out Mr. Dail and implicated another man. Mr. Dail was released from prison in August."

First of all, why did he need repeated inquiries? This shouldn't be so difficult. Secondly, CODIS actually matched someone else. There should be a better way to get old evidence into the system for cases where the conviction wasn't made on DNA evidence, but where it was available. Perhaps it may have been discovered that Mr. Dail wasn't a match LONG ago. By now we should have diminished the backlog of convicted felons to be put into the system. Now we need to work on the backlog of old evidence.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Everything's Virtual, Including Autopsies

by team UAB, slh

Is new science always better, or are we approaching virtual insanity?

In cases of suspicious death, the procedure does not damage or destroy key forensic evidence, as can happen during a conventional autopsy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Drug Testing Misunderstood

by blogger jgl

This case really irks me. First off, I'll be the first to admit that mistakes can be made in labs and it is entirely possible for false positives to occur. I will feel extremely bad for this guy if it turns out the lab made a mistake. However, if a mistake does occur, "proving your innocence" through shoddy forensic science is not the right path to take. Pay attention, forensic scientists! This is a classic example of an inappropriate use of forensic science to sway public opinion.

A summary of the case is as follows: Bronco's tailback Travis Henry tested positive for THC (urine). He's "proves" his innocence by taking a lie detector test and having his hair tested for drugs.

Travis Henry has convinced coach Mike Shanahan he's not a pothead. Now he'll take his case to the NFL.

Shanahan said Henry passed a lie detector test and a recent hair sample taken from Henry came back negative for marijuana.

"If the tests were positive, Travis would not be on our football team right now," Shanahan said. "When he went back and took the hair sample and that was negative, the lie detector test and that was negative, we'll let due process take care of itself. If Travis took a test and it was positive, after what he promised me, he wouldn't be on the football team right now."

Mainly because of his attempts to prove his innocence using *science*, his coach and TV personalities (including ESPN's Michael Wilbon and Dan LeBatard) are convinced he is likely telling the truth. I don't expect these guys to know anything about drug testing, but here are the facts:

Lie detectors DO NOT WORK.
Drug testing of hair DOES NOT WORK (for the most part).

Even if hair testing did work all the time, his hair is awfully short (grown in since the last drug test). By taking these bogus tests that scientifically prove nothing, Travis Henry has tricked educated people into jumping on his bandwagon. This demonstrates something most forensic scientists know, *the public often perceives anything scientific as infallible, but can't differentiate between "good" and "bad" science.*

If he really wanted to proclaim his innocence, then he should request that the lab retest his original sample. I don't work in a workplace drug testing lab, but don't they save a portion of samples for some length of time afterwards? Is Henry claiming his sample was mixed up with someone else's? How likely is this? Oh wait, it looks like the lab does have another sample that's already been tested according to this article.

But in a battle that has reached the federal court system, Henry is attempting to block the league from testing the so-called "B-sample" necessary to confirm the positive test, claiming that NFL officials would not allow his expert to be present for the testing of his specimen.

Something doesn't smell right. Plus, I hate to use a non-scientific fact to prove a point, but Henry has tested positive for drugs before (in 2005).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lack of common sense in a murder investigation, baffling, I know.

by team UAB, db

What is wrong with people?

University of Washington student Amanda Marie Knox of Seattle is one of the three suspects in the death of her roommate. Also detained are Knox's Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 23, and Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, the owner of the pub where Knox has been working part-time. All three deny any involvement, their lawyers said.

Of course they denied involvement in a murder case, what where the Italian police expecting, a triple confession?.

The judge said Knox was hazy about the events from smoking hashish before the slaying, even though she accused Lumumba of the crime in her meetings with the prosecutors, according to the 19-page ruling.

I'm sure her memories were hazy...but wait, that's not all.

Sollecito had previously claimed he had not been at the apartment on the night of the murder, but his footprint and fingerprints were found in Kercher's blood.

Sollectico's thoughts: Damn that little thing called trace evidence!