Forensics and evidence roundup

  • Radley Balko begins a four-part series on the flawed science of bite mark analysis [parts one, two with Jim Hood angle]
  • Federal judge Jed Rakoff “quits commission to protest Justice Department forensic science policy” [Washington Post]
  • Disturbing, but, to those familiar with the false-memory literature, not all that surprising: “People Can Be Convinced They Committed a Crime That Never Happened” [Psychological Science on new research]
  • Exposure of faulty fire forensics leads to another release after long time served [WHP, Harrisburg; James Hugney Sr. “maintained his innocence throughout” nearly 36 years in prison following conviction in burning death of sleeping son]
  • Courts struggle with evidentiary significance of emoji [Julia Greenberg, Wired] Rap music as gang-tie evidence: “The only value it has is to scare the hell out of white juries, and it’s effective” [ABA Journal]
  • Supporters of Brian Peixoto say his Massachusetts conviction typifies problems of shaken baby forensics [Wrongful Conviction News]
  • “Allegations that NYPD cops may have planted evidence, perjured themselves and engaged in cover-ups while investigating gun cases.” [New York Times via Balko; NYDN 2011 flashback]


  • I’ve had some experience in this area. Here are some facts of which you may not be aware:

    * Most state crime labs are not inspected and certified by anyone. Hospital and commercial labs have to be certified and inspected in order to receive insurance payments. This certification is usually performed by the College of American Pathologists, an independent agency which investigates complaints and revokes accreditation if standards are not met. State labs are usually underfunded, uninspected and have a built-in conflict of interest to generate results acceptable to police and prosecutors.

    * There are many excellent forensic pathologists, but, in general, the field does not attract the best and brightest. Most pathologists prefer to work in hospitals and academic centers, where the pay is better and the work not as yucky. The testimony of a pathologist, like that of any other doctor, is his/her opinion, not Holy Writ, and doctors disagree all the time.

    * My advice to defense attorneys, when reviewing scientific or forensic evidence provided by the prosecution, is always to have such evidence independently evaluated. About half the time a significant discrepancy will be found.

  • I am surprised that an official of the Department of Justice has the power to control the commission from which Judge Rakoff resigned. It is evidently not an independent commission. How exactly is this commision structured?