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  • crimewatchrt 8:34 am on November 2, 2009 Permalink |
    Tags: , analysis, analyst, , , BAC, , breath analysis, breath test, , , convicted, , , , , , , , CSI, dna, document, DUI, evidence, expert, faulty, , forensic, , , , innocent, , , judge, , Lab, Labs, , , Oversight, , study, , , unreliable, , , wrongful,   

    Faulty Forensic Analysis That Lead To Convictions 

    Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense. And as hundreds of criminal cases begin to unravel, many established forensic practices are coming under fire. Take an in-depth look at the shaky science that has put innocent people behind bars.

    Crime Lab Audit Stirs Calls For Independent Operation

    A legislative committee meets today to discuss the State Bureau of Investigation.

    There are increasing calls for the state crime to become independent from the SBI  after an audit found problems with 230 cases in which analysts misrepresented or wrongly reported blood evidence. WFAE’s Greg Collard takes a closer look at the issue in this report.

    Law enforcement agencies run nearly all of the country’s crime labs.

    Greg Taylor of Durham would like that to change. He spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit thanks in large part to the failure of an SBI lab analyst to tell prosecutors that key blood evidence actually tested negative for blood.

    “These scientists are performing these tests and procedures should be reporting in an unbiased way. And, to report in unbiased way, should report to an unbiased authority,” Taylor says.

    *********************************************************************

    Hundreds of D.C. Residents Could Have Been Wrongfully Convicted of a DUI

    Nearly 400 people were convicted of driving while intoxicated in Washington, D.C. in 2008 because of inaccurate calibrations of the breath test equipment.

    Imagine being charged and convicted of a crime, only to find out nearly two years later that your conviction was the result of faulty police technology. This is exactly what happened to nearly 400 people. They were convicted of driving while intoxicated in Washington, D.C. in 2008 because of inaccurate calibrations of the breath test equipment.

    According to results of an investigation led by D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, breath analysis equipment used by city’s law enforcement officers was found to be improperly adjusted, resulting in inaccurate readings. Analysis of all 10 of the District’s breath test machines found that readings produced a driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) to be about 20 percent higher than it actually was….

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    Report Condemns Police Lab Oversight

    The New York State Police’s supervision of a major crime laboratory was so poor that it overlooked evidence of pervasively shoddy forensics work, allowing an analyst to go undetected for 15 years as he falsified test results and compromised nearly one-third of his cases, an investigation by the state’s inspector general has found.

    The analyst’s training was so substandard that at one point last year, investigators discovered he could not properly operate a microscope essential to performing his job, the report released on Thursday said.

    And when the State Police became aware of the analyst’s misconduct, an internal review by superiors in the Albany lab deliberately omitted information implicating other analysts and suggesting systemic problems with the way evidence was handled, the report said. Instead, the review focused blame mostly on the analyst, Garry Veeder, who committed suicide in May 2008 during the internal inquiry.

    “Cutting corners in a crime lab is serious and intolerable,” said the state’s inspector general, Joseph Fisch. “Forensic laboratories must adhere to the highest standards of competence, independence and integrity. Anything less undermines public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

    Several lab workers whose actions were criticized in the report remain in their jobs pending an internal review of the inspector general’s findings, the State Police said.

    The State Police superintendent, Harry J. Corbitt, said that the agency planned to hire an outside consultant. “Appropriate remedial measures will be taken with respect to any conduct falling below the highest standards,” said Mr. Corbitt, whose nomination last year by Gov. David A. Paterson was meant to help rehabilitate the scandal-tainted agency.

    After the State Police began its internal investigation last year, it notified district attorneys across the state that evidence in criminal cases examined by Mr. Veeder might have been compromised. Mr. Veeder worked in the crime lab analyzing so-called trace evidence, like fibers, hair, impressions and other physical material found at scenes of crimes, including homicides.

    But on Thursday, police officials said that none of the district attorneys had found that Mr. Veeder’s work had cast doubt on any of their convictions.

    “We are satisfied that there were no wrongful convictions, nor any miscarriages of justice which resulted from these improper procedures,” Mr. Corbitt said, stating a viewpoint also shared by Mr. Fisch.

    Still, forensic science experts and advocates for those wrongfully convicted said the case pointed to longstanding problems in police behavior and underlined the need to hold law enforcement agencies accountable.

    “It is a wake-up call to the forensic community,” said Barry Scheck, director of the Innocence Project and a member of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, which monitors all the state’s crime labs. “What’s alarming about this report and others that we’ve seen like it is it’s not so much the bad actors, it’s the fact that the system didn’t detect them earlier.”

    There have been several high-profile cases in recent years in which police labs mishandled crime scene evidence, casting doubt on convictions. A convicted rapist was released in 2003 after an examination of the Houston Police Department’s lab found widespread deficiencies. Detroit shut down its police crime lab last year after an outside audit found errors in 10 percent of cases surveyed.

    In Mr. Veeder’s case, supervisors discovered during an internal inquiry that he had routinely skipped a preliminary fiber analysis and then created data “to give the appearance of having conducted an analysis not actually performed,” the inspector general’s report stated.

    The State Police have disputed the effectiveness of the preliminary test and said there was no evidence that Mr. Veeder’s work resulted in a piece of trace evidence’s being misidentified.

    The report said Mr. Veeder used a “crib sheet” provided to him by a former supervisor to falsify the test results. At one point, Mr. Veeder told investigators, “They told me from the past, you go to this and plug it in,” the report said. “This is how I was trained to, how we’ve always done it.”

    But Mr. Veeder’s allegations involving other lab workers were never part of the final report to the State Police’s internal affairs division. State Police investigators and the lab’s management “minimized and precipitously discarded the seriousness and extent of problems” at the lab, the inspector general’s report said.

    It said that one State Police investigator, Keith Coonrod, mischaracterized Mr. Veeder’s responses implicating other lab scientists and skewed Mr. Veeder’s statements to give the impression that it was his incompetence — not widespread misconduct — that led to the problems.

    Mr. Coonrod has been temporarily reassigned to a State Police job outside of the lab pending the outcome of the internal review.

    Despite Mr. Coonrod’s omissions, the inspector general also faulted Mr. Coonrod’s superiors. “There exists no doubt that laboratory management possessed sufficient information that Veeder’s individual misconduct implicated potentially broader systemic issues, but failed to take appropriate action,” the report said.

    The report named a number of lab supervisors at the time — including the director, Gerald Zeosky, and assistant director Richard Nuzzo — and describes them as unfazed by the inquiry and dismissive of Mr. Veeder’s broader claims. Mr. Zeosky remains in charge of the lab. Mr. Nuzzo was promoted and given a new job in the internal affairs division, but police officials said he would have had no involvement in the investigation of the lab.

    Another section of the report stated that Mr. Nuzzo was also found to have intimidated a lab technician who was working on a case unrelated to Mr. Veeder.

    Problems with Mr. Veeder’s work were first detected in 2008 during an accreditation review by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. The State Police then did an internal investigation and alerted the inspector general’s office, which began its own review.

    On May 23, 2008, Mr. Veeder hanged himself in the garage of his home outside Albany.

    Faulty forensic test put innocents in jail over decades

    A faulty forensic analysis has put hundreds of innocent people in jail over decades, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes. Eventually found to be unreliable, it was quietly dumped four decades later without alerting those convicted.

    The “comparative bullet-lead analysis” claimed to link a bullet with ones in suspects’ possession. However, faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples resulted in false matches.

    Excerpt from eFluxMedia:
    The comparative bullet-lead analysis was based on the supposition that each batch of lead would have a particular, almost unique, chemical makeup. The National Academy of Sciences, however, has invalidated this claim in 2004, pointing out that FBI experts who claimed to jurors the test linked a particular bullet to those found in a suspect’s gun or cartridge box were more or less misleading the jury.
    Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post:
    But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau’s managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show.
    The reporters have since alerted the FBI on at least 250 cases that may require closer examination.

    John Miller, FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs, noted that the FBI is taking a series of steps to try to fix this snafus on cases where the conviction might have resulted from the flawed analysis.

    The question remains as to why it took a media investigation for the FBI to notice and take action.

    Thinking ahead, what do you reckon are the chances of flawed computer forensics resulting in a hapless computer idiot being charged for computer crimes that they did not commit.

    Read more about faulty forensics here:

    Stop Police Abuse

    Faulty forensic evidence

    Biased Forensics

    Serious Problems with Forensic Science

    Innocent people in jail because of bite-mark testimony

    Eyewitness Misidentification and Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

    CSI Myths: The Shaky Science Behind Forensics


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  • crimewatchrt 7:56 am on November 1, 2009 Permalink |
    Tags: , agreement, , attorney, , bargain, , , , , , , , , defendent, defender, , , , judge, , , , offer, plea, prosecution, prosecutor, , , , Wanted,   

    The Problem With Plea Bargains 

    From the state’s point of view, the main benefit of the plea bargain is that it saves time See full size imageand money. It’s a good thing for someone who is guilty, someone who has factually done that which he or she is charged with doing, who is confronted with overwhelming evidence, and where the state is inclined to make some kind of offer because they would not want to put the victim, or families of the victim, or put the state, to the cost of proving the case at trial.

    For every criminal conviction that comes after a trial, 19 other cases are settled by plea bargain. This system can easily be abused by over zealous prosecutors and low paid public defenders.  It can extract guilty pleas from absolutely innocent people who plead guilty to charges they did not commit because they can’t afford the risk of going to trial. Especially when their own lawyer is telling them that they stand a good chance of going to prison unless they accept the agreement that the prosecution is offering.

    So why would an innocent person admit to a crime they didn’t commit? If an individual refuses to take the plea bargain and accept a guilty plea, and is later convicted, they face penalties up to ten times greater than if he were convicted of trial.

    About 95 percent of all felony convictions in the United States are the result of plea bargains.

    Judge Ralph Adam Fine’s comment on plea bargaining:

    During my nine years as a trial judge, I had several defendants who wanted to plead guilty even though when I then asked them to tell me what they did, responded with stories of innocence. When I asked them why they were trying to plead guilty, they all told me that they had been threatened with harsher penalties if they insisted on going to trial. In rejecting their pleas, I told them that we had enough guilty persons to convict, and that we did not need to dip into the pool of the innocent.

    In each of the instances, we went to trial and the defendants were acquitted.

    Judge Fine proves that plea bargaining is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in an excellent article he wrote for the Federalist Society; the article is located here (large .pdf).

    Prosecutors are under significant pressure to negotiate plea agreements. a criminal trial costs approximately $10,000 per day to prosecute, prosecutors have very heavy case loads, the jails are crowded and the criminal court calendars are full. In addition, various pressures lead defense attorneys to plea bargain most cases.

    Going to a jury trial is a roll of dice—even with the best attorneys and the most exonerating evidence in the world, you just never know what kind of decision a jury of 12 people will come to with your case!

    When plea bargaining is available, prosecutors can extract a guilty plea in nearly every case, including very weak cases, simply by adjusting the plea concession to the defendant’s chances of acquittal at trial. When almost every case results in a plea of guilty, regardless of the strength of the evidence, prosecutors have much less interest in screening away weak cases. Since some cases are weak because the defendant is innocent, however, more innocent defendants are charged and as a result more are convicted.

    More Reading On This Topic:

    In the prosecutor’s view, there is no such thing as an innocent suspect or defendant.

    Prosecutors are intimidating, and threatening to those who are being prosecuted for something they did not even do.

    For every false conviction due to plea bargaining, there exists a criminal on the streets whom the police no longer care about.


     
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