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Edited by Julie Fry
Written by Celia Givens   


Forensics in the News

The California Supreme Court has issued a decision in P v. Buza, ruling that the state’s controversial DNA arrestee law did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights. Enacted in 2004, California’s Proposition 69 allows law enforcement to take DNA from anyone arrested on suspicion of felony and enter them into the state’s DNA database. To date, there are tens of thousands of DNA samples stored in the state database that were collected from people arrested, but never charged or convicted of a felony. (Los Angeles Times)
A NY appellate court has issued a ruling in P v. Fields, stating that the trial judge did not abuse discretion by not holding Frye hearing on TrueAllele, but indicates defense could be entitled to source code if the request is made prior to trial.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has written a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to revise the DOJ’s fingerprint examiner guidelines regarding in-court testimony citing a lack of empirical basis. The letter states, “There is no scientific basis for estimating the number of individuals who might have a particular pattern of features; therefore, there is no scientific basis on which an examiner might form an expectation of whether an arrangement comes from the same source. The proposed language fails to acknowledge the uncertainty that exists regarding the rarity of particular fingerprint patterns. Any expectations that an examiner asserts necessarily rest on speculation, rather than scientific evidence.” (AAAS)
A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice has issued an order dismissing more than 11,000 convictions (from over 7,500 cases) affected by a former state chemist’s misconduct. In 2013, former lab analyst Sonja Farak pleaded guilty to charges related to stealing and using drugs she was supposed to be testing as evidence from 2005 to 2013, and last June, a state judge ruled that two former assistant attorneys general had committed fraud by not disclosing the extent of Farak’s misconduct. (Boston Globe)
Related: WBUR News
Biometric technology companies are working with law enforcement agencies, including the New York Police Department,  “to develop body cameras that could identify faces in real time” (Wall Street Journal)
Drug testing that uses mass spectrometry to detect trace amounts of cocaine in hair samples has been found to disproportionately those with darker hair because of the way drugs bind with melanin (Wired)
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a guide describing the procedures for “documenting and populating various data elements typically found within the contents of a mobile device, e.g., mobile phone, tablet, etc.”
Opinions & Commentary
Six scientists who formerly served on the National Commission on Forensic Science have published a “call to action” for more empirical methodology in the field of forensic science, stating:

“Vocal and continual advocacy for scientific independence is needed, along with policy recommendations and a concerted effort to ensure that this issue stays in the public conscience. Independent review efforts should be launched and supported. Forensic scientists have long complained that their work is not always valued by their scientific colleagues because of its applied nature; it is time for the scientific community to move beyond that conceit. Research and academic scientists should become educated about forensic science and take active steps to welcome the discipline into the larger scientific community. A broad effort can help illuminate the causes of failures, help predict when failure is likely to occur, and aid in the development of strategies to mitigate or circumvent those conditions...If we are unwilling to confront the issue of accuracy in our justice system, what cause is worthy?”
Related: Phys.org
NY Times Book Review:
The Cadaver King and the County Dentist

From the NY Times Book Review: “The book details the wrongful convictions of two men, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, in the separate murders of two girls in the same rural Mississippi town in the early 1990s. But the real killer of both 3-year-olds is revealed to the reader before the wrong men are even put on trial…The crime having been solved early on, Balko and Carrington devote the bulk of the book to pulling back the curtain on the justice system’s little-known but systemic problem that put Brewer and Brooks behind bars: faulty and biased forensic evidence. Junk science convicted these men; real science set them free. The inability of judges and jurors to tell the difference is why innocent men languish in jail while the prosecutors who put them there run for higher office.”
 
Click the picture below to read the full review and
Click here to listen to a Vice News podcast where both authors are interviewed!

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