pbray: (crime)
In the latest news from the FBI crime labs, an admission that they've been overstating the likelihood of DNA matches, a problem that dates back to at least 1999.

This is part of a series of reviews that have revealed systemic problems with forensic evidence provided by the FBI. Back in 2012 they revealed similar issues with hair & fiber evidence, these dating back to the 1980s. Not to mention the earlier well-publicized problems with gunfire residue evidence and fingerprint analysis.

Back in 2009 the National Academy of Sciences went before Congress with a scathing indictment of the state of forensic science at all levels of law enforcement in the US, pointing out that the lack of standards and scientific rigor meant that junk science was routinely being presented, unchallenged, at criminal trials. In an optimistic view, one could say the latest report from the FBI shows that they've committed themselves to reform, and are being open about the past.

Or you could say that they are just as likely to learn from this as they learned from the FBI lab scandals in the 1990s...which is to say, not at all. Bad FBI science.
pbray: (crime)
FBI to review lab work in thousands of cases.

Original Washington Post article here, may require registration to read.

The new review goes back at least as far as 1985. A previous review of FBI Forensic Lab work was done in the mid-90s which uncovered major problems and led to reforms, but obviously they must have reason to believe that the previous review didn't catch all the problems. Nor did their reformed culture stop systemic problems from occurring in later years.

Particularly troubling is that the FBI has apparently known about the problems with hair and fiber evidence for years and failed to act, a pattern that we've seen from them before.

Since 2009 the National Academy of Sciences has been pushing to put the science back into forensic science, and this latest FBI review appears to be at least in part a result of their efforts. Of course you can't help but wonder-- if they get it so wrong at the FBI level, how bad is it in the smaller crime labs around the country?
pbray: (crime)
Interesting article on the BBC website about upcoming changes to the FBI's DNA database.

One thing most people don't realize is that when DNA information is stored or analyzed for comparison purposes, they don't use the entire sequence. Instead they use selected markers, basically a small subset of the total DNA. Which, of course, leads to two potential problems. First, if two databases use different markers, you can't easily compare data between the two systems, a potential problem when trying to share information across jurisdictions.

The second problem is what they refer to as chance matches. The situation where a DNA match is declared based on the subset of DNA examined, when, in fact, a broader comparison would reveal that the DNA is not identical. This is the possibility that troubles forensic scientists, who are still trying to work out how much data needs to be stored in a profile in order to rule out the possibility of chance matches.

And for those who assume well this is the FBI, of course they wouldn't declare themselves certain of a match unless they were, let's not forget Brandon Mayfield. He's the Seattle lawyer whose fingerprints the FBI mistakenly matched to the terrorist bombing in Spain, an analysis which was vigorously defended by the FBI even after Spanish law enforcement declared it to be in error. Eventually Mayfield received a rare public apology from the FBI, but if this had been a strictly domestic case, rather than a high profile case that crossed borders, one wonders if the mistake would ever been caught.
pbray: (crime)
Earlier this year the National Academy of Sciences issued a scathing report on the state of forensic science in this country. It looks like they're firing the next salvo, with an in-depth hearing on the investigative science used in the probe of the 2001 anthrax attacks, specifically those that led the FBI to declare Dr. Bruce Ivins as their sole suspect.
"I think this review is a really good first step," said biological policy expert Cheryl Vos of the Federation of American Scientists. "What I would really like to know is how much did the scientific conclusions drive the investigation, and vice versa. There is a clear intersection between the two." From the USA Today article.

In the vein of seeing what you want to see and finding what you want to find, two recent news stories focused on false evidence linked to scent tracking dogs, including the case of Bill Dillon, sentenced to life in prison based largely on evidence provided by a dog handler.. The article refers to a fake scent tracking dog, but the dog isn't the one who gets on the stand, it's the handler who testifies. Money quote:
Tim McGuire, a dog-tracking expert with Florida’s Volusia County Sheriff’s Department, said it was implausible that a dog could have picked up Dillon’s scent back in 1981 eight days after the murder, and just after a massive hurricane had blown through the area.

The recent issue of Time Magazine also has a story on scent evidence this one focused on a handler in Texas.
pbray: (crime)
The media has once again discovered that real life isn't the same as TV, as USA Today breathlessly reports that CSI isn't an accurate representation of police forensics.

The article was inspired by the report from the National Academy of Sciences to Congress on the state of forensics and use of evidence in this country. The press release from NAS and audio of their briefing can be found here or you can listen to the story on NPR. Much of what is in the report reflects concerns that have been raised before, but this is a sweeping indictment of the overall system.
pbray: (crime)
When police in Finland found a mosquito inside a stolen car, they decided to analyze the blood found in the mosquito and used the DNA results to identify the suspect. The suspect, who has a record, is claiming that he simply hitched a ride in the vehicle.

The prosecutor must now decided if this evidence is strong enough to press charges.

Fingerprints on the steering wheel are one thing, but I think they're going to have a hard time making a case if all they have to go on is the mosquito. Though it does add something else to your forensics checklist when preparing to commit a crime.

Wearing gloves and a disguise is so passe. These days your preparations should include removing all body hair (or wearing a tyvek suit), bringing along bleach for destroying any trace DNA, making sure your cell phone is powered off and left home so it can't be used to track your movements, being aware of all traffic cameras and other monitoring devices as you travel to/from crime scene, and, oh yes slathering yourself in DEET to avoid incriminating mosquito evidence.
pbray: (crime)
Left foot washes up on beach near Vancouver. Note that this is the fifth foot found in this area since last August, but all of the previous finds have been right feet.

It's the very bizarreness of the story that captures the imagination. An entire body washing up along shore is one thing, but just feet?

Edited on 6/18 to add: and they've just found a sixth foot. A right one.

Edited on 6/19 to add: the sixth foot was a hoax--skeletonized animal paw wrapped in seaweed and stuffed in shoe. The recent news coverage has apparently brought out the crazies.
pbray: (crime)
It sounds like an idea for an episode of Criminal Minds or perhaps [livejournal.com profile] matociquala and friends' Shadow Unit-- a serial killer preying on college men, whose murders go undetected because each death is classified as an accidental drowning. Until the coincidences start piling up, and a potential signature is identified.

The story hit the media outlets last month, and CNN has joined the debate. It has all the ingredients of a classic Hollywood story, including the two detectives who are doggedly pursuing their theory in the face of almost universal disbelief.

It would be fascinating to watch unfold--if you could forget that these were real people, who left grieving family and friends behind.
pbray: (crime)
Not dead yet, though today is the 10th consecutive work day, which is one of the reasons I've been posting infrequently. And speaking of dead, yesterday I finished reading the first of my birthday loot: NEVER SUCK ON A DEAD MAN'S HAND: Curious Adventures of a CSI by Dana Kollmann.

Overall I liked the book, but its strengths are also its weaknesses. Reading this book feels like taking Dana out for coffee (or a few drinks) and listening as she tells tales from her days as a CSI. It's a fascinating insight into the non-glamorous parts of the job, and what doesn't get shown on TV. But there's not a lot of structure to the book--stories wander, break off at odd points, there's entirely too much detail in some spots and too little in few. Every now and then she hints at a story but then wanders off in another direction, leaving the reader unfulfilled. If I were listening to her in person, I could prompt her to go back to fill in the missing blanks, but as it is, I kept reading and only when I reached the end did I figure out that she wasn't ever going to finish that story.

And as a warning, the gross out factor is high. Very high. As in do not attempt to eat or drink during or after reading certain sections, and be prepared to gag. I'd thought the full-color photographs of decomposing bodies from my Criminal Investigations textbook would have inured me to such things, but if you have a vivid imagination, the word pictures that Dana paints are even more gag-inducing.

Overall recommended, if you're a CSI junkie, or simply enjoy reading about someone who thinks burying roadkill in the front yard is an acceptable hobby.
pbray: (crime)
For those wondering what I was up to last week, in preparation for Boskone's DEATH TO PEEPS party, I staged my very own Peep murder, complete with newspaper articles, crime scene photos, and case notes.

Newspaper coverage of the tragic death of Benjamin Peep.

Large images cut for kindness, click on link to view )

4.0

Jan. 4th, 2008 12:57 pm
pbray: (crime)
Received an A in the Criminal Investigations course I just finished up. I'm ridiculously pleased.

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