Category Archives: Resources

NC State Crime Laboratory welcomes new Ombudsman

Sarah Jessica Farber is the new Ombudsman to the NC State Crime Laboratory. As Ombudsman, her job responsibilities include addressing public concerns about the Crime Lab and making recommendations to the Attorney General about any changes needed at the Crime Lab. The Ombudsman serves as a liaison with all criminal justice system actors and is available to defense attorneys who have questions or feedback about the lab. More information about the role of the Ombudsman is available here.

Prior to joining the Crime Lab, Farber served as a magistrate in Wake County. Earlier in her career, she worked as a criminal defense attorney, both with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and with her own private practice. She can be reached at sfarber@ncdoj.gov.

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Royal Society Forensic Primers

Both experienced and newer attorneys should be aware of two primers, released by The Royal Society, on forensic DNA analysis and forensic gait analysis, available here. Although these reports were intended for use by courts in the UK, they provide important information for attorneys in the United States. This blog post intends to give a brief overview of notable sections of the primers.

Within the DNA analysis primer, attorneys may find the information on Y chromosome DNA analysis and mitochondrial DNA analysis helpful. Y chromosome DNA analysis (p. 11) is a technique that is useful when there is a mix of male and female DNA, such as in sexual assault cases. Mitochondrial DNA analysis could be helpful in cases where DNA evidence is small or breaking down, for example in a cold case or post-conviction case (p.12). Mitochondrial DNA is present in a cell greater amounts than nuclear DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child, and is nearly identical in maternal relatives, and the Y chromosome is nearly identical in paternal relatives, so it should be noted there are greater odds of multiple people matching a mitochondrial or Y-STR profile by chance or due to relatedness.

Another section of the primer that may be of interest is the discussion of contamination (p.32) and DNA transfer (p. 46). Contamination is “the introduction of DNA, or biological material containing DNA, to a sample after a (trained) responsible official has control or the crime scene.” (p.32). To prevent contamination, precautions should be taken such as following the international standard for DNA-free items.

The primer notes that once there is an appropriately-handled DNA sample, the forensic scientist should interpret the DNA evidence sample first, document the findings, and then the scientist should compare it to known samples of DNA (p.34). The process should be done in that order to avoid confirmation bias. The primer also contains an explanation of DNA statistics that may be useful for attorneys.

Lastly, The Royal Society also released a notable primer on forensic gait analysis.  Forensic gait analysis evaluates a person’s manner and mannerisms in their walk and compares it to a recorded video to determine if it is the same walk and as such the same person. This type of evidence is more common in the UK where video surveillance is more prevalent. However, the primer’s assessment of this type of evidence is interesting as the assessment could be applied to other novel techniques. While the primer notes that there are accepted clinical uses for gait analysis by various types of health professionals, that doesn’t mean that the technique has a validated forensic use. The primer finds that there is not enough scientific evidence to determine one’s identity solely from their walk because it is not certain that people don’t share walk patterns, there is no known error rate or standardized methodology, and there are no published black-box studies on the technique’s reliability and repeatability.

 

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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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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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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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Open Forum with the NC State Crime Laboratory

On Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, the NC State Crime Laboratory and NC Office of Indigent Defense Services will offer a free CLE for criminal defense attorneys and criminal defense investigators. A Forensic Science Manager from each Section of the State Crime Laboratory (including Digital Evidence, DNA Database, Drug Chemistry, Firearm and Tool Mark, Forensic Biology, Latent Evidence, Toxicology, and Trace Evidence) will present an overview of the procedures for testing evidence in her Section of the lab. These presentations will address evidence submission procedures, what type of evidence is tested, what scientific techniques and instruments are used, and reporting/testimony language.

Following these presentations, there will be a panel discussion. The leader of each section will explain evidence preservation and the order of evidence processing. The presenters will discuss proficiency testing, quality control, and the limitations of the testing performed by their section.

In the final session, the speakers will address questions from attorneys. Due to the confidential nature of casework, questions about specific cases will not be answered. Attorneys can schedule a meeting at the State Crime Lab to discuss the case with the analyst. Attorneys may submit questions ahead of time using the registration form or by emailing sarah.r.olson@nccourts.org.

Attorneys receiving CLE credit will be billed $3.50 per credit hour by the NC State Bar. 2.5 hours of general CLE credit is anticipated. Non-attorneys who wish to receive continuing education credit may use this program agenda to apply for their own credit. The program will take place at the NC Judicial Center, 901 Corporate Center Drive, Raleigh, NC (http://www.nccourts.org/Courts/CRS/AOCAdmin/AOCMove/Directions.asp).

Program website: http://www.ncids.com/forensic/resources/oct13.pdf
Program registration is available here: https://goo.gl/forms/cVm3zFSB08fDH6L63

October 13, 2017

8:30-9:00 AM     Sign-in (Coffee and light snack provided)

9:00-10:00 AM   Presentations by each Section of the NC State Crime Laboratory

10:00-11:00 AM Panel Discussion with the NC State Crime Laboratory

11:00-11:30 AM Q&A with the NC State Crime Laboratory

Presenters:

  • Georgana Baxter, Western Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Drug Chemistry Section
  • Johnathan Dilday, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Advantage Manager/Deputy Assistant Director
  • Ann C. Hamlin, Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Drug Chemistry Section
  • Joshua Hickman, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Digital Evidence Section
  • Zach Kallenbach, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, DNA Database Section
  • Frank Wayne Lewallen, Triad Regional Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Supervisor, Drug Chemistry/Toxicology Section
  • Karen W. Morrow, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Latent Evidence Section
  • Elizabeth Patel, Triad Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager
  • Jennifer L. Remy, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Physical Evidence Section
  • Timothy Suggs, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager (Quality Manager)
  • Jody H. West, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Forensic Biology Section

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