Forensic judgments and their peer review are often the result of human assessment and are thus subjective and prone to bias. This study examined whether bias affects forensic peer review.
We hypothesized that the probability of disagreement between two forensic examiners about the proposed conclusion would be higher with “blind” peer review (reviewer saw only the first examiner’s comparison photos) than with “non-blind” peer review (reviewer also saw the first examiner’s interpretation and proposed conclusion). We also hypothesized that examiners with a higher perceived professional status would have a larger effect on the reported conclusion than examiner with a lower status.
We acquired data during a non-blind and a blind peer review procedure in a naturalistic, covert study with eight examiners (3-26 years of experience). We acquired 97 conclusions of bullet and cartridge case comparisons in the blind and 471 in the non-blind peer review procedure.
The odds of disagreement between examiners about the evidential strength of a comparison were approximately five times larger (95%-CI [3.06, 8.50]) in the blind than in the non-blind procedure, with disagreement about 12.5% and 42.3% of the proposed conclusions, respectively. Also, the odds that their proposed conclusion was reported as the final conclusion were approximately 2.5 higher for the higher-status examiners than for lower-status examiners.
Our results support both the hypothesis that bias occurs during non-blind forensic peer review and the hypothesis that higher-status examiners determine the outcome of a discussion more than lower-status examiners. We conclude that blind peer review may reduce the probability of bias and that status effects have an impact on the peer reviewing process.
BRENDAN MAX AND two of his colleagues in the Cook County, Illinois, public defender’s office got some good news and some bad news in the spring of 2018. Actually, it was the same news: The three lawyers had nearly aced a proficiency test designed for fingerprint examiners.
None of them had any training or real expertise in latent fingerprint analysis — the practice of trying to match a fingerprint collected from a crime scene to the known print of a suspect — aside from what they’d learned during their years working criminal defense.
Big Names. Big Science; a Big-Time CLE Experience!
Don’t miss this great opportunity for a no-nonsense, national networking CLE featuring the leading faculty in their respective fields. This two-day event is produced in partnership with the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ).
A prosecutor projected a grisly photo onto a screen for the jury. It showed a little girl’s feet, burned up to her ankles and covered in blisters. The 2-year-old had climbed into a bathtub when nobody was looking, her grandparents had said, and the hot water must have been set too high.
In the Texas courthouse 100 miles east of Dallas that day in September 2012, the prosecutor turned to his expert witness and asked whether he believed the child’s injuries could have been the result of an accident.
This summer, Robert Wesley, Public Defender of the Ninth Circuit, partnered with Dr. Candice Bridge from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the National Center for Forensic Science (NCFS) to provide a Forensic Science Law Camp for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida.
This law camp gave middle school and high school children an introduction to a career in forensic science. The students had the opportunity to learn how to compare fingerprints and ask for career guidance. This experience culminated in a mock trial at the end of the summer.
The Ninth Circuit for Orange and Osceola Counties, UCF, and the NCFS is committed to outreach programs like this one to help educate and make careers in Forensic Science accessible to the community.
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David Camm lost 13 years of his life to eight drops of blood.
In 2000, the Indiana state trooper was charged with murder after finding his wife and two children shot to death in their home. During the three trials that followed, the prosecution brought in bloodstain experts who argued that the flecks of blood on the t-shirt Camm had worn the night of the murder were “high-velocity impact spatter”—proof, they said, that he was the shooter. Analysts called by the defense, on the other hand, testified that the blood was actually a transfer stain that had smeared onto Camm’s clothing after he’d tried to help his children.
Testifying for the defense, forensic scientist Robert Shaler disputed the claims of the bloodstain experts on both sides, insisting that the blood’s scant patterning was “too little information from which to draw any meaningful conclusion,” Pamela Coloff at ProPublica reported last year.
In a unanimous decision released Friday afternoon, the state Supreme Court threw out the 1989 murder convictions of two New Milford men and delivered a stinging rebuke to renowned forensic science expert Henry Lee, whose inaccurate testimony put them in prison for decades.
Both Sean Henning and Ralph Birch were convicted in separate trials for the bloody murder of Everett Carr, who was stabbed 47 times, his throat slit and his blood tracked through the house. They were convicted partially based on the testimony of Lee who told jurors that a towel in the bathroom of Carr’s home had a spot on it that he had tested and found was “consistent with blood.”
At 9:00 a.m. last December 14, a man in Orange County, California, discovered he’d been robbed. Someone had swiped his Volkswagen Golf, his MacBook Air and some headphones. The police arrived and did something that is increasingly a part of everyday crime fighting: They swabbed the crime scene for DNA.
Normally, you might think of DNA as the province solely of high-profile crimes—like murder investigations, where a single hair or drop of blood cracks a devilish case. Nope: These days, even local cops are wielding it to solve ho-hum burglaries. The police sent the swabs to the county crime lab and ran them through a beige, photocopier-size “rapid DNA” machine, a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment affordable even by smaller police forces. Within minutes, it produced a match to a local man who’d been previously convicted of identity theft and burglary. They had their suspect.
When Apple introduced an electronic fingerprint scanner to its iPhone in 2013, it started doing away with annoying password log-ins required for many smartphone apps.
Today, a group of prominent D.C.-area investors thinks the same process can be applied to real-world inconveniences, such as standing in line at the airport, waiting to get into a hockey game or ordering a drink, where driver’s licenses and credit cards are still the primary way consumers prove their identities.
Julie Rea was convicted of killing her son largely on the testimony of bloodstain-pattern analysts. She was later acquitted and exonerated, joining a growing community of Americans wrongly convicted with bad science.
Forensic science is at a crossroads. In the last two decades, often-used forms of pattern evidence, such as fingerprint, tool mark, and bite mark identification, have faced significant criticism for lacking adequate scientific validation or proven reliability. Is this the beginning of a sea change, signaling the rise of a science-based, empirically grounded approach to these forms of evidence, both in the courtroom and in the crime laboratory? Or has the increased attention produced Band-Aids rather than meaningful and lasting cures? This essay argues that the current state of forensic science reform is both “half empty” and “half full.” Looking first at bite mark evidence, then at modifications in the language used by forensic scientists for their courtroom testimony, and, finally, at the creation and the elimination of the National Commission on Forensic Science, this essay argues that we have thus far seen modest and meaningful – but far from adequate or transformative – reform. Our best hope for sustained, substantial changes necessary for improving forensic science evidence within our system of justice requires the creation of another national commission or other institutional body, made up of both research scientists and other institutional stakeholders, and situated as to prevent “capture” by either forensic practitioners or advocates within our adversarial system.
Mnookin, Jennifer L., The Uncertain Future of Forensic Science (December 12, 2018). 147 Daedalus 99 (Fall 2018); UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-42. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3300354.
NACDL’s 12th Annual Forensic Science & the Law Seminar, “Making Sense of Science” will once again be held at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, April 5-6, 2019.
Big Names. Big Science, Big CLE–a Big Experience.
Don’t miss this great opportunity for a no-nonsense, national networking CLE featuring the leading faculty in their respective fields. This two-day event is produced in partnership with the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ). Register, and make your plans to attend TODAY!
Soon after a young Guatemalan immigrant climbed over a border fence into California last year, he was detained, processed as an unaccompanied minor and placed in a youth shelter.
That changed when a dental exam showed an 85.8% probability that the young man was 18. At that point, the Office of Refugee Resettlement turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which held him in Orange County jails with adult immigrant detainees.
On the morning of Feb. 20, 2009, Chris Brown was running a little late for work.
It was a frigid day in Wampum, a small town in Western Pennsylvania. Brown said his fiancée Kenzie Houk, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time, had asked him to stay home with her that day, but he decided to go to work.
That decision, he told “20/20,” is “something that’s haunted me.”
ON A MONDAY MORNING in late September, I arrived at a house in a gated subdivision in Alabama and asked for James F. Cooper, a retired agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A tall, sturdy man in his 70s came to the door a few minutes later. His white hair was in a slightly overgrown crew cut; he wore athletic clothes and navy blue Crocs. “What can I do for you?” he asked, stepping outside.
I wanted to talk about an old arson case he investigated in 1992: a fatal fire at a small, one-story house in Old Hickory, Tennessee, just outside Nashville. A 24-year-old woman named Lorie Lee Lance had died in the blaze. Her boyfriend, Claude Francis Garrett, was arrested for setting the fire. He swore he was innocent. But two separate juries convicted Garrett of murder, first in 1993 and then again in 2003. Cooper was the star witness for the state.
A new study published in the UCLA Law Review reveals a potential for rule tightening on the use of fingerprint evidence in the U.S. judiciary.
“The Reliable Application of Fingerprint Evidence,” written by University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon Garrett, focuses on the State v. McPhaul decision in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in November 2017.
The defendant, Juan McPhaul, faced charges of attempted first-degree murder, assault, and robbery with a dangerous weapon stemming from a Domino’s Pizza delivery in North Carolina. In retracing McPhaul’s steps, law enforcement pulled fingerprint data from pizza and chicken wing boxes and other items seized from the address associated with his order. The prints were cited as evidence in the successful prosecution of McPhaul in trial court.
“We the Defenders”: National Association for Public Defense Investigator and Social Worker/Sentencing Advocates Conference
These conferences will feature nationally recognized faculty in a mix of plenary sessions, simultaneous sessions and small group breakouts. Participants will have the opportunity to choose sessions to best fit their individual needs. There will also be networking opportunities to create relationships to sustain the support provided during the live event.
The curriculum is being designed by two experienced planning teams working with NAPD’s Training Director Jeff Sherr.
The schedule and topics in Indianapolis will be very similar to the agenda linked below. Some of the topics offered in break out sessions will differ due to the results of a needs assessment of those who register and faculty strengths.
Click here to see the agenda and faculty for the previous conference in Denver.
Early Bird pricing before July 9
Members – $275
Non Members – $325
Between July 10 – Sept 3
Members – $325
Non Members – $375
After Sept 4
Members – $375
Non Members – $425
This conference will have a similiar structure and many of the same faculty. It will evolve as we survey registrants and make sure it fits your needs.
Confirmed presenters for Indianapolis include:
- Jon Rapping.
- Jon Lyon.
- Lori James-Townes.
- Dani Waller.
- Watani Tyehimba.
- Kevin McClain.
- Lubna Debbini.
- Victor Gomez.
- Herb Duzant.
Topics will include:
- Client Centered Defense Teams.
- Online Searches.
- The Dark Web.
- Open Records Request.
- Creating Sentencing Videos.
- Working with Experts.
- Working on Teams.
- Safety in the Field.
- Using Cell Phones in Investigation.
- Secondary Trauma.
- Race in the Criminal Justice System.
- And more.
Member organizations registering more than 5 people for this conference will receive a discount of $25 per registrant.
The modern era of bloodstain-pattern analysis began when a small group of scientists and forensic investigators started testifying in cases, as experts in a new technique. Some of them went on to train hundreds of police officers, investigators and crime-lab technicians — many of whom began to testify as well. When defendants appealed the legitimacy of the experts’ testimony, the cases made their way to state appeals courts. Once one court ruled such testimony admissible, other states’ courts followed suit, often citing their predecessors’ decisions. When discussing the reliability or accuracy of the technique, judges typically relied on their own — or the testifying expert’s own — assessment. Rarely, if ever, have courts required objective proof of bloodstain-pattern analysis’ accuracy.
The murder of Mickey Bryan, a quiet fourth-grade teacher, stunned her small Texas town. Then her husband, a beloved high school principal, was charged with killing her.
Did he do it, or had there been a terrible mistake?