Thursday, March 31, 2016

68th annual meeting of the AAFS (American Academy of Forensic Science) in Las Vegas: : Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith spill the beans in 'Intercept' on what the assembled forensic scientists did not talk about in an article entitled "Embattled Forensic Experts Respond to Scandals and Flawed Convictions." (Clue: "Today, there is no way to ensure that every potential wrongful conviction tied to faulty forensics will be identified or remedied." (Must Read. HL);"

STORY: "In Las Vegas, embattled experts respond to scandals and flawed convictions," by Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith, published by 'The Intercept' on March 25, 2016.

GIST: "It had been a long day at the 68th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science.........The AAFS is the largest professional forensic science organization in the world. Its 6,500 members include doctors, engineers, and scientists of all stripes — practitioners who lend expertise and testimony to lawyers and law enforcement. Founded in 1948, its mission is to “elevate the standards and advance the cause of the forensic sciences.” Membership is governed by a strict code of ethics “to promote the highest quality of professional and personal conduct,” according to the AAFS’s published guidelines, and available “only to those persons of professional competence, integrity, and good moral character.”.........The DOJ review is just the beginning of a process that until now, has been almost completely overlooked — and was barely mentioned in Vegas. For all the talk of moving forward and embracing change, the AAFS conference spent precious little time addressing a different imperative — the need to look backward. Or, as lawyers like Fabricant call it, the “duty to correct.” Indeed, as errors and deficiencies in forensics are acknowledged, so too should be the cases in which those deficiencies and errors were allowed into evidence. Until the FBI’s recent inquiry into hair microscopy cases, such work was done in a scattershot way, mostly at the state level. The Texas Forensic Science Commission, for example, has facilitated a review of dozens of old arson convictions — a process jointly handled by the Innocence Project of Texas in partnership with the state’s fire marshal — and is now embarking on the bite mark case review. But the review of potential wrongful convictions is largely left to a patchwork of modestly funded innocence projects, law school innocence clinics, and to a small number of conviction integrity units within prosecutors’ offices. (If there is any glaring blind spot in the NAS report, it is likely the failure to address the impact that faulty forensics may have had on a large number of criminal cases. The report acknowledges the troubling way forensics are vetted by judges and lawyers for admission into evidence, but notes only that this demonstrates a “tremendous need for the forensic science community to improve.”) Generally, the criminal justice system favors finality — a virtue that has been reinforced in recent decades through legislation and expansion of certain legal doctrine, including the concept of “harmless error” — where mistakes during a criminal trial are acknowledged upon review, but ultimately shrugged off as not having impacted the outcome of the case. In short, it is a standard of expediency — and an example of the difference between law and science. Although science is founded on the principle of perpetual inquiry, the legal system prefers the proposition of one-and-done. The system is simply not designed to facilitate any meaningful wide-ranging review — and more often than not, state actors fight tooth and nail against reopening old cases. Today, there is no way to ensure that every potential wrongful conviction tied to faulty forensics will be identified or remedied. Take, for example, the experience of the defense attorney from the Twin Cities. Even in the face of glaring failures by the state’s crime lab, she said, some prosecutors refused to cooperate with her to reassess the cases impacted by the lab’s incompetence. Yet, the sheer power of forensic evidence makes such reviews crucial. As the AAFS conference came to a close, Fabricant shared the story of George Perrot, a man released from prison in February. Perrot spent more than two decades incarcerated for the 1985 rape of a 78-year-old Massachusetts woman. Although the woman repeatedly insisted to police that Perrot was not her assailant — he didn’t look at all like her attacker — the then-17-year-old was nonetheless convicted based largely on the testimony of an FBI hair examiner who said a single hair found in the victim’s bed was a match to Perrot. Perrot was sentenced to life in prison. If it weren’t for the FBI’s comprehensive hair microscopy case review, he would still be in prison. The power of forensic evidence in this case was enough to supersede the victim’s insistence that they had the wrong man, Fabricant pointed out. “I find that truly horrifying.”"

The entire story can be found at:


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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

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