Author Archives: Terri Louise Sims

History of DNA Analysis Timeline – Available Online

A DNA analysis timeline is now available on the IDS Forensic Resources website.  The timeline traces the development of forensic DNA analysis and its use by the NC State Crime Lab.  It seeks to identify what technologies were available during a particular time period.  It is a helpful tool for attorneys working on older cases or post conviction cases who need to know what techniques were being used during the time period when evidence in their case was tested.

You can access the timeline here.

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Stateline and NPR report on the state of forensic science labs

In a two-part report, Stateline examines the problems facing crime labs across the country.  Part one of the series addresses recent problems plaguing crime labs and the need for judicial education regarding the reliability of forensic evidence.  Part two introduces a new forensic lab in Washington, D.C. which operates independently of state law enforcement agencies and has incorporated many of the recommendations of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report.

You can read the part one of the Stateline report here  and part two here.

The Greg Taylor case and lab accreditation were the focus of a Nov. 20, 2012, All Things Considered report on NPR. ASCLD/LAB accredited the NC State Crime Laboratory during the time when Greg Taylor’s case was worked and still accredits the lab. In the report, defense attorney Marvin Schechter questions ASCLD/LAB’s accreditation process and calls for forensic science labs to be made independent of law enforcement.  You can listen to the story here.

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The ENCODE project, the Fourth Amendment, and Haskill v. Harris

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, heard oral arguments on whether DNA fingerprinting violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure on September 19.

Plaintiffs-Appellants in Haskell v. Harris argue that collection of DNA at arrest violates their privacy interests because DNA contains not only CODIS markers that help in forensic identification by distinguishing one individual from the other, but also contain additional genetic information which plays a role in cell behavior.  This revelation is supported by the ENCODE Project, a nine-year, world-wide, federally-sponsored project which has determined that the once thought “junk” DNA actually contains intimate information such as an individual’s susceptibility to disease and physical traits such as height.  For this reason, opponents of DNA fingerprinting argue that the forensic use of DNA implicates a cognizable privacy interest because, while a DNA profile contains identifying information, it also contains much more intimate information that is sensitive and private to the individual.

You can read more here. A video of the arguments is posted here.

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Guide to Working With Experts – Now Available Online

Attorneys can now access the “Guide to Working with Experts” on the IDS Forensics website.  The guide was created as an additional tool to assist attorneys in effectively vetting experts and offers tips on productive communication with experts.  You can access the guide here.

Additionally, attorneys can use the American Board of Medical Specialties website to search for an MD who is certified in a particular practice area.  The website is also a helpful tool for researching whether an expert you are considering is certified in the necessary practice area for your case.  You can access the website here. The searches are free and it takes just a few moments to sign up.

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SCOTUS to Decide on Dog Sniffs and Privacy

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two Florida cases at the end of October regarding dog sniffs and the Fourth Amendment.   The Florida Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Jardines that taking a drug detection dog to the front porch of a home to sniff for marijuana violated the Fourth Amendment.  They held in Florida v. Harris, where a drug detection dog alerted to a car, that the dog sniff did not constitute probable cause to search a car.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) recently held a panel discussion on the cases which you can view online.  Among the participants in the panel were a defense attorney and dog sniff expert, the Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and a Supreme Court litigator and partner at WilmerHale.  You can watch the video here.  News articles on the cases can be found here and here.

You can get also get more information about these cases from Shea Denning’s posts on the UNC School of Government blog. She has posted about the status of dog sniffs under the Fourth Amendment here and on NC dog sniff cases here.

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“Forensics on Trial” program on NOVA

NOVA (PBS) aired a program called “Forensics on Trial” on October 17, 2012, examining the crisis facing crime labs in the U.S which lack central oversight, employ few scientific standards, and have poor regulation of examiners. The program investigates how the use of fingerprint, bite mark, ballistics, toolmark, and hair analysis evidence has led to wrongful convictions. The program will examine the 2004 Madrid bombing case in which a so-called fingerprint match was used to arrest an innocent man. The fingerprint was later matched to another suspect.  The program will also discuss how mishandling of forensic evidence impacts the criminal justice system, from wrongful convictions to the O.J. Simpson trial.  You can read about the details of the program here.

More information is also available on the NOVA website where the program can be viewed online.

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The “Birthday Problem”

Defense attorneys interested in learning more about DNA statistics might find the following articles interesting because the “birthday problem” is analogous to looking for partial matches in a DNA database.  The birthday problem is a classic puzzle that asks  if you had a room full of people, how many people would you need in the room to make the odds of two people having the same birthday at least 50-50. Surprisingly, the answer is just 23.

In the “birthday problem,” when you do not designate a specific birthdate, you open up the opportunity for many pairs to be made from a much smaller sampling of people than if you specified a specific birthday.  The same applies in with DNA when searching a DNA database for any set of matching loci, rather than looking to match a specific set of loci to another distinct set of loci.

This NY Times post is part a 6-part series entitled “Me, Myself and Math” and does a great job of explaining the birthday problem. For folks wanting more in-depth information about how the birthday problem is useful for understanding trawling of DNA databases for partial matches, take a look at this article by David H. Kaye.

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