Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Forensic Blog Launched

We are excited to announce that the IDS Forensic Resources blog and website have moved to a new platform that makes it easier for you to access the information you need. The new blog and website are available at All of the content from this blog and some great new posts are available now on the new blog, and I will no longer be posting on this platform. Please subscribe using this form to get email updates when I post new content.

It has been a pleasure sharing forensic information with you on this blog! I hope you’ll check out the improved functionality of our new blog and website.

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Litigating Post-Conviction Innocence Claims CLE

10th Annual Post-Conviction Conference
Litigating Post-Conviction Innocence Claims

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), in collaboration with the Innocence Network, and supported by a grant awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, presents this essential training specifically for lawyers who handle post-conviction innocence claims. National experts will provide cutting edge instruction on topics essential for re-investigating and litigating post-conviction innocence claims. Innovative new strategies and topics will be featured.

Sessions will cover both forensic evidence and strategies to tackle difficult issues in post-conviction innocence claims, including: addressing racial discrimination at trial during post-conviction litigation; forensic genealogy; DNA: probabilistic genotyping; blood spatter; shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma; and navigating admissibility standards post-conviction.

When: Thursday, April 11, 2019

Seminar Location & Hotel Accommodations:
The Westin Peachtree Plaza
210 Peachtree St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30303

More information is available here. The program is free for lawyers who handle post-conviction innocence claims. Pursuant to the grant funding, attendees must work on the screening, review, investigation and/or litigation of potential post-conviction innocence claims and cannot work on the prosecution of criminal matters.

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Independent testing of blood for drugs or alcohol when a client is in custody

In some cases, an attorney needs a defendant’s blood to be collected for independent toxicology testing immediately after arrest and no specimen has been collected by the state. The presence of a controlled/impairing substance and its metabolites will dissipate within hours or days, so time is of the essence if an attorney wishes to have this evidence collected and tested. This is an example of why it is important to meet a new client as soon as possible. In a case where the defendant is in custody, it can be challenging to arrange for this collection in a timely manner.

Here are some steps that attorneys can follow to arrange the testing for a client in custody:

  1. Consider the time frame within which the sample needs to be collected in order for the substance to be detected. Asking the client about the timing of ingestion, amount, and history with the substance may yield relevant information for determining whether testing should be done. For appointed cases, counsel can contact Sarah Olson for assistance in finding an appropriate toxicology or pharmacology expert who can offer guidance about how quickly a substance is metabolized and what type of testing will be most effective.
  2. Identify a lab that can conduct the testing. The lab should be an accredited laboratory experienced in forensic testing. Discuss with the lab what type of testing to conduct and the type of report needed. Ideally the lab would be able to perform both screening (immunoassay) and confirmatory (GC-MS or LC-MS/MS) testing as needed, and be able to quantitate the amount present, if needed. The lab can provide specific information about what type of sample to collect, best practices for collection and labeling, how to ship the sample, and what the lab will do with the sample after testing. Request from the lab any documentation that you need to submit with the sample. If you need help identifying a lab for an appointed case, contact Sarah Olson.
  3. Identify a registered nurse or phlebotomist who can travel to the jail to collect the sample. If you need help identifying a qualified health care professional for an appointed case, contact Sarah Olson.
  4. Request funding authorization for the independent testing/flat fee services for appointed cases or by making an ex parte motion or making the appropriate request of the Capital Defender’s Office in a potentially capital case. This sample ex parte motion can be adapted.
  5. Request that a court order be entered to allow a qualified health care professional to collect the sample from a defendant in custody, authorize funding for their work in an appointed case, and grant independent testing. This sample ex parte motion for sample collection and independent testing can be adapted. Counsel should also complete an AOC-G-309 Form or IDS-029 Form and submit it to the appropriate decision-making authority.
  6. Each facility may have different requirements for sample collection. It may be worthwhile to inquire about those requirements prior to seeking the order. Counsel should be aware that law enforcement might contact the District Attorney’s Office about this request and should consider whether to draft the order in a way that anticipates it being shared with the DA’s Office and consider enlisting help from the DA’s Office to facilitate compliance as needed.
  7. Provide the nurse/phlebotomist with a copy of the order and ensure that proper chain of custody is documented.
  8. Arrange for shipment of the blood sample and your request as instructed by the lab using a trackable carrier, like FedEx or UPS.

IDS Forensic Resource Counsel Sarah Olson ( can provide additional information.

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Upcoming forensic evidence programs at Duke Law School

Duke Law School will host two forensic evidence programs in March 2019.

Getting Forensics Right: Strengthening the Connection Between Forensics, Statistics, and Law Ten Years After “A Path Forward”

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 • 12:30 PM • Law School 3037

What are the stakes when forensics go wrong? Keith Harward will tell his story: he was exonerated by DNA testing, but spent 34 years in prison in Virginia for a murder he did not commit, based on multiple erroneous bite mark comparisons. Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project will join in the conversation. M. Chris Fabricant, who directs special litigation for the Innocence Project, will moderate. Prof. Brandon Garrett will introduce the panel. Lunch will be provided. The conference is made possible for the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Science (CSAFE), and it is also supported by the Innocence Project. Sponsored by the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Criminal Law Society. For more information contact Prof. Brandon Garrett at Registration is not required.

Whiskey in the Courtroom – Evolving Trends in Forensic Science: Cognitive Bias in Forensic Science and in the Courtroom

Friday, March 8, 2019 • 8:45 AM • Law School

Indigent Defense Services, the Duke Law Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, and the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence are co-sponsoring the fifth annual CLE, “Whiskey in the Courtroom: Evolving Trends in Forensic Science.” Forensic science experts and attorneys who have litigated cases involving complex scientific evidence will present on a range of topics designed to help attorneys understand the latest trends in forensic evidence, limitations to this evidence, and legal challenges that can be made. This year the program will have a special focus on Cognitive Bias.

Attendees will pay $25 to cover the cost of food and parking. IDS will cover that cost for IDS employees. The program is expected to carry 6.25 CLE hours. If you want CLE credit, you will need to pay the NC State Bar the CLE fee of $3.50 per credit hour.

Registration is nearly at capacity. Sign up here.

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ANSI/ASB Best Practice Recommendation 037, Guidelines for Opinions and Testimony in Forensic Toxicology

The American Academy of Forensic Science Standards Board (ASB) has published ANSI/ASB Best Practice Recommendation 037, Guidelines for Opinions and Testimony in Forensic Toxicology, First Edition. This document delineates guidelines for best practices in forensic toxicology opinions and testimony, including human performance toxicology (e.g., driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs), postmortem forensic toxicology, court-ordered toxicology (e.g., probation and parole, drug courts, child services), and general forensic toxicology.

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) is working to develop best practice recommendations through a consensus process for each forensic discipline. Though the guidelines are non-binding, they do represent a deliberative process by which a group of forensic science practitioners, researchers, and court system stakeholders have developed recommendations on training standards, lab procedures, quality assurance, report writing, and testimony for each field.

The 2009 National Research Council Report, Strengthening Forensic Science: A Path Forward, emphasized the need for improving quality assurances, including continued standards-setting and enforcement. They wrote:

…Standards and best practices create a professional environment that allows organizations and professions to create quality systems, policies, and procedures and maintain autonomy from vested interest groups. Standards ensure desirable characteristics of services and techniques such as quality, reliability, efficiency, and consistency among practitioners. Typically standards are enforced through systems of accreditation and certification, wherein independent examiners and auditors test and audit the performance, policies, and procedures of both laboratories and service providers.

The Guidelines for Opinions and Testimony in Forensic Toxicology aim to “ensur[e] that proper toxicological testimony is allowed in legal matters by defining the general areas of forensic toxicology that are viewed as reliable by other experts in the field.”

The Guidelines specify that experts should provide both an analytical toxicology report and a separate report that conveys their opinions if they will offer an opinion on the interpretation of the toxicology findings (Section 4.1). In other words, under the Guidelines, an expert who will testify about the impairing effects of substances should provide that opinion in a written report, in addition to reporting the quantitative results that are typically provided in a Lab Report.

Additionally, the Guidelines specify that an opinion should clearly state any assumptions made; clearly state any known limitations of the opinion; cite references to support the opinion (and such references should be provided in the report or made available upon request); and be based on the totality of information available, including case history, observations, circumstances, and other relevant information, and not based solely on analytical results. (Section 4.3)

The Guidelines also define what are considered appropriate (Section 5.2) and inappropriate (Section 5.3) opinions and testimony by a toxicologist. These sections reiterate that opinions about impairment must be include consideration of the context of the case and not be based solely on a quantitative result. Also, words such as “scientific certainty” or “reasonable degree of scientific certainty” should not be used in testimony unless required by jurisdictional regulations.

All ASB publications can be downloaded for free from the Published Documents section of the ASB website.


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Having a client declared indigent for the purpose of attaining expert assistance

In some cases where an attorney has been retained, the defendant may exhaust their funds and not be able to pay for expert assistance that is needed in the case. The ability for a defendant to access expert witness assistance is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but attorneys for may be unsure about the process for obtaining funding  for expert assistance when the client has become indigent during the course of the representation.

When defendants who have been able to hire counsel become indigent over the course of representation, they have to motion in order to be allowed the usage of state funds to hire investigators and expert witnesses. To help attorneys secure expert assistance on behalf of an indigent client, IDS has put together a template motion for indigency.  The motion can be filed as a stand-alone motion or it can be incorporated into the motion for funding for an expert that is described below. The template can be accessed here.

In addition to the motion for indigency, counsel in non-capital cases must submit Form AOC-G-309 and an ex parte motion for the appointment of an expert in order to obtain funding for an expert for an indigent client. In potentially capital cases, Form IDS-028 must be submitted along with the motion for indigency to the Office of the Capital Defender. These forms and sample motions for the appointment of an expert can be found here.

IDS thanks Davis & Davis, Attorneys at Law for their assistance with this motion!

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Daubert in 12 Minutes

If you are working on a case where expert opinion testimony is anticipated, a quick primer on NC Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard is now available. Andrew DeSimone of the Appellate Defender’s Office has recorded Daubert in 12 Minutes which addresses the admissibility of expert testimony in North Carolina.

The primer discusses the 2011 changes to Rule 702 and the implications of those changes in criminal cases. DeSimone covers the relevance inquiry and “fit test,” the qualifications of the expert, and the 3-pronged reliability test from the federal rule and Daubert. DeSimone discusses the McGrady opinion’s application of the reliability test.

The program also is available for download on the Experts page of the IDS Forensic website.

Daubert in 12 Minutes with Audio from Sarah Olson on Vimeo.


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Happy National DNA Day!

If you handle cases involving DNA evidence and don’t know the story of Lukis Anderson, stop what you are doing and take a few minutes to observe National DNA Day by reading this great article by Katie Worth of The Marshall Project.

Mr. Anderson was a homeless man living in San Jose, CA whose DNA was found on the fingernail of murder victim Raveesh Kumra. As a result of the DNA match, Mr. Anderson was charged with murder and spent several months in jail on that charge before the innocent explanation was uncovered for his DNA being on a murder victim who was unknown to him.

Both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Kumra were attended to by the same team of paramedics on the night of the crime. After Mr. Anderson was transported to the hospital, the paramedics responded to the scene at Mr. Kumra’s home. Had Mr. Anderson not had an airtight alibi established in his medical records, showing he was in the hospital at the time that Mr. Kumra was murdered, it is likely his case would have had an outcome other than dismissal.

The Marshall Project article explains the phenomenon of DNA transfer that Mr. Anderson’s case illustrates. There has been scientific research on DNA transfer showing that 1 in 5 of us walk around with someone else’s DNA under our fingernails. People shed 50 million skin cells a day, and research has demonstrated how easy it is for DNA to be transferred to an object that a person has never touched. Because techniques for analyzing DNA have become more and more sensitive, it is possible now to develop a profile with a small number of cells – cells which are easily transferred.

If you’d like additional information about DNA transfer or the challenges of interpreting very small amounts of DNA, please contact me ( and I’d be happy to discuss further and share some articles with you.



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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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Free Webinar on Lab Accreditation and Analyst Certification

Stetson Law’s National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law is offering a complementary webinar for defense attorneys and prosecutors on Dec. 14, 2017 from 12-2 pm. Registration and program information is available here.

The program will explain the lab accreditation process and the certification of individual forensic science practitioners in specific disciplines. Panelists will discuss the purpose of accreditation and certification, quality assurance, lab standards, and how accreditation and certification may impact courtroom proceedings.


  • Kenneth Melson, Senior Advisor on Forensic Science Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Laurel Farrell, Senior Accreditation Manager, ANAB Forensics Accreditation Program
  • Robert Garrett (Ret.), Director, Forensic Certification Management Board for the International Association for Identification (IAI)

CLE credit information is available through Stetson Law.

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