Category Archives: Arson

Forensic Evidence Errors in Arson Investigations and Crime Scene Processing

Paul Bieber (Director at Arson Research Project: http://thearsonproject.org/research/) explores the misidentification of an accidental fire as an act of arson and how unreliable, quasi-scientific techniques led to the mistaken execution of an innocent man. On June 30th, join the UNC School of Government and the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services for the seventh installation in the Evenings at the School of Government series, Beyond Willingham: Recognizing Errors and Crafting Solutions in Fire Investigations. The program provides one and a half (1.5) CLE credit hours and is designed to enhance the knowledge of all criminal law practitioners, not only in understanding the investigative techniques used, but in raising challenges to that evidence.

Location, Date, and Time: Thursday, June 30th, 2016 at the UNC School of Government room 2603. Sign-in begins at 5:15pm, the program begins at 5:30pm, and is set to conclude by 7:00pm.

RSVP: Registration is not required, but we ask that you RSVP via email to Monica Yelverton, at myelverton@sog.unc.edu.

Materials: Materials for this program are forthcoming and will be available on the program website http://www.sog.unc.edu/courses/evenings-school-government under the materials tab. Those who RSVP for this event will receive a confirmation email on June 23, 2016 with a link to the program materials. Please note that the materials will not be provided in hard-copy form at the program. We recommend that you either bring a laptop to access the materials electronically or bring a hardcopy.

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Fire Investigation Publications Available

The National Institute of Justice has made available the following reports that address various techniques used in fire investigations. These reports may be useful to attorneys handling cases were arson is alleged. Each report attempts to document best practices for investigating specific aspects of fires.

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Improving Arson Investigations

Discover Magazine recently published two articles about how recent scientific investigation has challenged the traditional principles and methodology of fire investigation. Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials? explains how these developments have occurred and Seven Myths About Arson debunks seven fire scene findings that have been used in numerous cases as evidence of arson.

In light of these articles being published and the recommendations of the Texas Forensic Science Commission discussed below, I have updated the Arson Resources page of the IDS forensics website with several new articles and resources. Take a look at the changes I have made!

On October 28, 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended a review of arson convictions in the state to determine whether faulty science could have led to wrongful convictions. The State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Innocence Project of Texas will assist in the review.

Click here to read the Commission’s recommendations or visit the Innocence Project’s website for more information on the recommendations and the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

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