The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that defendants have the Constitutional right to examine witnesses from forensic labs that provide evidence in their criminal cases. The cases below underscore how important that ruling was for justice.
December 18, 2009
Inquiry Condemns Oversight at State Police Crime Lab -- Analyst, undetected for 15 years, falsified test results and compromised nearly one-third of his 322 cases
18 Dec 2009 - NYTimes.com - The New York State Police’s supervision of a crime laboratory was so poor that it overlooked evidence of pervasively shoddy forensics work, allowing an analyst to go undetected for 15 years as he falsified test results and compromised nearly one-third of his 322 cases, an investigation by the state’s inspector general has found. The analyst’s training was so substandard that at one point last year, investigators discovered he did not know how to operate a microscope essential to performing his job, a report released Thursday by the inspector general said. -- Access the entire article at this link: Report Condemns Police Lab Oversight
Innocence Project – Innocence Blog
Posted: December 16, 2009
Forensics in the Gates Case
Donald Eugene Gates was freed in Arizona after serving nearly three decades behind bars for a Washington, D.C., crime he didn’t commit. An examination of the forensics behind his wrongful conviction makes a strong case for federal forensic reform to prevent injustices like this in the future.
FBI forensic analyst Michael Malone testified at Gates’ trial in 1982 that hairs found at the scene of the 1981 rape and murder were “microscopically indistinguishable” from Gates’ hairs. His statements vastly overstated the possible conclusions that could be drawn from a hair comparison. Unlike some other forensic disciplines (DNA testing, blood type testing), hair comparison analysis can only reveal potential similarities between specimens, not the statistical likelihood that two specimens might share common characteristics.
Although Malone’s forensic conclusions have been challenged in other cases and a 1997 Justice Department review discredited his work, no formal review of his convictions has ever been conducted. The Judge who presided over the Gates case recently ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct such a review. See more at this link: D.C. Case Underscores the Need for Forensic Reform http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/2298.php
Scientific testimony can be faulty, unlike one might expect from watching television shows. Most often, mistakes happen because of poor equipment or human error. Occasionally medical examiners actually conspire with district attorneys or police to deliberately introduce false testimony at trials. Invalid scientific evidence has caused some people to be wrongly convicted or sentenced to death like Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 for his children’s arson murders when there was actually no proof of arson. The scientific methodology that was initially used in the fire investigation at Willingham’s home and presented to his jury was faulty. See the article at this link: Cameron Willingham’s Wrongful Execution – and Others http://freespeakblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/cameron-todd-willinghams-wrongful.html
Another notable case is Philip Workman’s murder conviction in Tennessee. The former chief medical examiner in Memphis, Dr. O.C. Smith, apparently tried to shed doubt on damaging scientific testimony the doctor gave against Workman as the condemned man’s execution date drew near. Dr. Smith was indicted for staging his own kidnapping. The medical examiner was found in the stairwell at his office with barbed wire wrapped around his head and with explosives and notes secured to his person with duct tape. The notes read, “Dr. Smith lied about bullet trajectory in the Philip Workman’s case.” Other witness testimony against Workman also fell apart, but he was executed without a new trial in 2007 despite the doctor’s alleged antics. Learn more about Mr. Workman at this link: Philip Workman, Innocent Man Executed? http://www.nowpublic.com/world/philip-workman-innocent-man-executed
In September 2008, Detroit closed its police lab after an audit found serious errors in many cases that probably caused wrongful convictions. See more in this article: Supreme Court’s DNA Deliberations - http://www.nowpublic.com/world/supreme-courts-dna-deliberations-mary-neal
Increasing budgets for indigent defense and investing in better forensic laboratory equipment and highly skilled personnel would decrease wrongful convictions, thereby saving taxpayers wasted money on punishing innocent people with lengthy prison sentences or execution. According to an article published in Buffalo News by Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., eyewitness testimony, lab tests, and even defendants’ confessions cannot always be trusted. In fact, Dr. Fraser reports that 50% of wrongful convictions result from invalid forensic evidence. See more information at this article: I Didn’t Do It Your Honor! http://freespeakblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/i-didnt-do-it-your-honor.html
NYTimes.com offers informative articles about the unreliability of forensic evidence at the link below. One is entitled: “DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show,” by Andrew Pollack. He reports, “With fabricated blood or saliva, you can just engineer a crime scene,” said the lead author of a new study. NYTimes.com forensic science articles - http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/f/forensic_science/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=forensic&st=cse
Excerpt from my article, “I Didn’t Do It Your Honor!” Innocent people will continue to fall through the cracks occasionally and be imprisoned for crimes while the guilty go free. No measures will prevent every single wrongful conviction. But we can stop all wrongful executions very easily. Instead of costing money to do this, it would save around $90,000 per condemned inmate per year: End capital punishment, and no one will be wrongly executed. Just say . . . DEATH TO THE DEATH PENALTY!
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill