Monthly Archives: March 2018

Judging Forensics

Federal district judge for the Southern District of New York Jed S. Rakoff delivered the keynote address, “Judging Forensics” during the Forensics, Statistics and Law conference at the University of Virginia School of Law on March 26, 2018. The address can be viewed online here.

Judge Rakoff’s presentation commemorated the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. which reshaped how judges evaluate scientific and expert evidence. The presentation looked at how courts have considered the admissibility of testimony about scientific evidence and specifically forensic evidence. Judge Rakoff cited a study which found that in Daubert challenges between 1993 and 2001, defense proffers of expert testimony were rejected 92 percent of the time, whereas where the prosecution was the proponent of the evidence, expert testimony was admitted 95 percent of the time. Judge Rakoff examined some reasons for that disparity.

He addressed the NAS Report and PCAST Report and several examples of unreliable forensic science and statistical evidence, including a hair comparison case and a case where a mathematics professor improperly calculated the likelihood of a two suspects driving a specific car and was allowed to testify to that evidence. The question and answer session offered important insights into how these issues can be addressed.

Recordings of additional presentations and panels are available on the UVA Law YouTube channel (scroll down to “uploads”) or here. Attorneys may be interested in viewing Dr. Peter Stout’s presentation on the use of blinds at the Houston Forensic Science Center (at 27:50), Henry Swofford’s presentation on the use of statistical software in fingerprint comparisons at the Defense Forensic Science Center (at 1:12), and Dr. Alicia Carriquiry’s presentation on statistics and the evaluation of forensic evidence.

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Filed under Experts, Meetings/Events, NAS Report, PCAST Report, Resources

Lab Tour on April 27

Would you like to learn more about how forensic toxicology testing is performed? Would you like to have a better understanding of how blood is tested for drugs or alcohol? Toxicologists Dr. Jay Gehlhausen and Dr. David Burrows will lead attorneys and investigators on a lab tour on April 27, 2018 in Wake Forest, NC at 10 am.

They will explain how blood and urine are tested for various substances, including through urine dip tests, immunoassay screening tests, and LC/MS-MS. Participants will be able to view the instruments and data and ask questions about the techniques used.

Attending a lab tour is a great way to improve your understanding of scientific evidence and its limitations. The tour and discussion will last about two hours. If you would like to attend, email Sarah.R.Olson@nccourts.org to sign up.

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Filed under Drug Analysis/Toxicology, DWI, Meetings/Events

OSAC releases forensic science terminology tool

In March 2018, the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) created a Lexicon of Forensic Science Terminology to help facilitate communication across many disciplines. Attorneys can access the OSAC Lexicon to find definitions of forensic science terms that are agreed upon across various disciplines.

The terms and definitions come from the published literature, including documentary standards, specialized dictionaries, Scientific Working Group (SWG) documents, books, journal articles, and technical reports. Some definitions have been modified to reach consensus across disciplines. Going forward, the OSACs will use these terms and their definitions when drafting standards, unless there is a specific need for modification.

Adoption of standardized terminology is important to facilitate clear communication between scientists, legal professionals and other criminal justice stakeholders, and jurors.

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Forensics, Statistics and Law Conference

The Virginia Journal of Criminal Law and the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence will host a one-day conference entitled Forensics, Statistics and Law on Mar. 26, 2018 at the University of Virginia School of Law. This conference focusing on forensic evidence and its use in the courtroom will mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. decision.

The program will focus on how to develop better forensic evidence, how to analyze it more accurately in the crime lab and how to present it more effectively in criminal cases. Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will deliver the keynote address.

Pre-registration is not required for this program. A live stream of the conference will be available here.

Information about additional forensic evidence training programs is available on the IDS Forensic website.

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Rare medical condition, not shaking, caused baby’s death

Murder charges were dropped recently against a father in Randolph County charged with the death of his 11-week-old daughter. The baby’s treating physician indicated the death was caused by shaking or blunt force trauma. The defendant spent 158 days in jail prior to the charges being dismissed. The charges were dismissed when the forensic pathologist, Dr. Anna McDonald, reported to the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case that the child suffered from a rare medical condition causing blood clots to travel to her brain and heart. Diagnosing the rare condition that has symptoms similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome required extensive study of the child’s tissues. More information about the case is available here.

The defendant was represented by attorney Taylor Browne of Asheboro. Mr. Browne recognized the need for extensive investigation and expert assistance and consulted with medical and biomechanical experts. Attorneys representing clients in cases with shaken baby or abusive head trauma allegations should be aware that the triad of symptoms associated with these diagnoses (cerebral edema, retinal hemorrhaging, and subdural hematoma) may have other explanations. Some information about these cases and links to additional resources can be found here.  Attorneys in appointed cases should contact IDS Forensic Resource Counsel Sarah Olson for assistance in locating experts and other resources.

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Whiskey in the Courtroom: Evolving Trends in Forensic Science

NC Indigent Defense Services and the Duke Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility are sponsoring the 4th Annual Whiskey in the Courtroom CLE on March 9, 2018 at Duke Law School. The full-day program for defense attorneys and criminal defense investigators will focus on scientific advances in several fields of forensic evidence, including fire investigation, accident reconstruction, interrogations and false confessions.

The program will also feature scientific poster presentations. Participants can speak with experts about their work, including research on error rates, value-based decision making, admissibility of evidence under the Daubert standard, use of 3-D modeling, and police procedures.

Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about scientific advances from leading national and in-state experts. Speakers will address how this evidence should be used in court and how to challenge unreliable forensic evidence. Registration information and the full agenda is available here.

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