DNA and Forensic Evidence

“In hindsight, it might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

Scary, long-read about “poor” science of arson forensic science: Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison for Life.

The convictions of Babick, Hugney, Lee and Rosario all relied, at least in part, on the same kinds of burn patterns identified by Special Agent Cooper as telltale signs of arson in 1993. The fire investigative community has since acknowledged such flaws in its old methodology and, although it was slow to do so, has revised its literature and practices. Yet within the criminal justice system, even as the same junk science reappears over and over again in wrongful convictions, there has been no systemic reinvestigation of old arson cases.

TV crime dramas have unfortunately caused too much credence be given generally to forensic experts:

Recent experiments have yielded troubling results. In one 2005 test, ATF researchers asked 53 professional fire investigators to pinpoint the origin of a series of post-flashover fires. Only three were able to do so accurately — most drew false conclusions based on burn patterns. In 2011, a test conducted by  the California-based Arson Research Project asked professional fire investigators to assess 12 post-flashover burn patterns and distinguish between those that involved a liquid accelerant and those that did not. In reality, there is no way to tell the difference based on visual evidence alone. Yet out of 33 investigators, only three responded that such a conclusion could not be determined based on this evidence.

I once had an expert, on the witness stand, state that she had never made a mistake nor had she called her colleagues conclusions into doubt. State forensic scientists, although an independent agency from “law enforcement,” fall into a pro-prosecution bias.

In a subsequent report, the Arson Research Project warned that between their subjective methodology and close identification with law enforcement, fire investigators are “uniquely positioned” to be susceptible to the affects of cognitive bias — in which one’s perception is colored by preexisting knowledge or assumptions.

Scariest thought.

“In hindsight,” Fulton said, this “might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

What forensic “most sophisticated science of today” will be viewed as poor science in 20 to 30 years? How many convictions will be obtained and prison sentences imposed with such “poor science.”

Chocolate chip cookies might get you arrested for drug possession

Radley Balko has a running list of all the materials that field tests have mistaken for drugs:

Sage, Chocolate chip cookies, Motor oil, Spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, Tortilla dough, Deodorant, Billiards chalk, Patchouli, Flour, Eucalyptus, Breath mints, Loose-leaf tea, Jolly Ranchers

Man Wrongly Accused Of Rape by Police, Wants Apology

According to this article,

A man whose wedding was postponed because New York City police wrongly arrested him for rape says the ordeal has left him out of work and in legal debt up to his ears.

Cops were under pressure to collar the suspect or suspects behind a series of high-profile gropings and sex attacks that started in March in the area.

They thought Giraldo, a livery cab driver, was the perp terrorizing the neighborhood. He was spotted inside a Dunkin’ Donuts at 2:45 a.m. on June 4 — the same time that the rape victim was in the store, according to The Post.

The woman, 29, left the store after an alleged suggestive remark from Giraldo. Then, in her nearby apartment vestibule a man grabbed her by the neck, stripped off her clothing and raped her, NY1 says. Witnesses described seeing a car outside that police thought belonged to Giraldo.

Giraldo turned himself in when police released a surveillance photo of him, saying that he was the main suspect, TV station WPIX says.

He thought it would be a formality, because he had an alibi that he drove a passenger to John F. Kennedy Airport at the same time the attack occurred, The Daily News says.

But police interrogated him for hours, demanding that he confess. After standing in a series of lineups, cops said he would be arrested, The News reports.

Giraldo’s last hope for a speedy resolution were tests that could prove that his DNA didn’t match the samples recovered from the crime scene. Cops said it would take 72 hours to get the results.

But on June 8, the day Giraldo, a Colombian immigrant, was supposed to get married, he was arraigned in front of a judge on suspicion of rape.

Because he couldn’t afford the $100,000 bail, he was locked up on Rikers Island, the city’s jail. A judge released him without bail later, but he was transferred to an immigration detention center in New Jersey because he came to the United States on a tourist visa in 1999 and overstayed, The Brooklyn Ink says.

While Giraldo spent a month behind bars, the sexual deviant struck again, The Daily News reports.

When he was released from detention, he and his fiancee married in a civil ceremony.

On top of the criminal case against him, Giraldo had to worry about being deported.

The crucial evidence that would have cleared his name — the DNA test results — took months to complete. It was on Nov. 15 that prosecutors revealed they didn’t have a match from the genetic material and charges against Giraldo were dropped

IL Court Reverses Conviction of Man Jailed for 19 Years in Rape and Murder

According to the reports, a man convicted of Rape and Murder has had his convictions set aside for lack of evidence.

In an opinion that harshly criticizes the tactics of the police and prosecutors, an Illinois appellate court on Friday night reversed the conviction of Juan Rivera, who has spent 19 years in jail for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old baby sitter in a suburb of Chicago.

Mr. Rivera, who is 39 and serving a life sentence, has been convicted three times for killing the sitter, Holly Staker, based on the strength of a confession that was obtained after four days of questioning. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, which occurred in Waukegan, Ill., and DNA testing in 2005 excluded him as the source of sperm found in Holly’s body. . .

In its opinion, the appellate court on Friday said the confession was highly suspect and was not enough for a “rational trier of fact” to conclude that Mr. Rivera was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, while prosecutors insisted that Mr. Rivera’s confession contained details only the killer would know, the court said that detectives had fed some details to him by asking leading questions and that some other facts had been made public in newspaper articles.