CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

DNA Matches Lost in the Mix

A DNA match a crime "solved" by the FBI's CODIS database does not mean that an arrest was made, that a criminal was prosecuted, or even that detectives considered a case closed. So how many DNA matches lead to an arrest and how often is the ball dropped?  Unknown, no government agency keeps track.

But a USA TODAY investigation found almost three dozen cases during the past five years in which investigators failed to pursue potential suspects whose DNA matched evidence found at crime scenes.  DNA matches that could have closed cases weren't pursued because of basic police foul-ups, such as overlooking a telephone message reporting the match. According to USA TODAY, backlogs of unsolved "cold cases" that threaten to overwhelm some big-city police departments caused matches to be ignored. In some jurisdictions — Richmond, Va., Cincinnati, and DeKalb County, Ga. — police offered no explanations for why matches were not pursued.

Among the cases USA TODAY found:

In Oakland, in June 2004, the DNA of convicted child molester Kalonji Lee matched DNA from an attempted sexual assault of a 10-year-old Oakland girl the previous January. Police did not contact Lee until after he had molested another Oakland 10-year-old in December 2004, deputy chief Howard Jordan confirms. Lee was caught for the second assault after the victim's parents spotted his picture on California's "Megan's Law" website and alerted detectives.

In Cincinnati, September 2004, the DNA of career felon Gary Box matched DNA left at a December 2001 rape and abduction that Cincinnati police had been unable to solve. At the time of the match, Box was serving a prison sentence for assault. But police did not contact him until May 2005, after he had been released from prison and had returned to Cincinnati. Court files show that police acted after being alerted by Box's victim, who encountered him by chance while walking in a local park.

In Georgia, March 2003, the DNA of convicted burglar and sex offender Floyd "Tony" Arnold matched DNA left at separate rapes in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The rapes had taken place in 1993 and 1995. But neither Fulton nor DeKalb authorities contacted Arnold, according to both police departments, even though at the time of the matches he was in Georgia's prison system serving a five-year sentence for cruelty to children. The unpursued matches came to light last December, when Arnold was matched through a third DNA hit to a 1981 Cobb County rape for which another man had been wrongly convicted. That man, Robert Clark, Jr., had served almost 24 years in prison.

In Oregon, 2002, the state police crime lab used DNA to match 26 men to unsolved Portland burglaries. The names were reported to Portland police, department spokesman Detective Paul Dolbey acknowledges. None was followed until one of the 26 suspects was matched again to an additional burglary, and lab technicians pointed out the earlier matches.

More from USA TODAY including some DNA success stories. . . [Michele Berry]

November 21, 2006 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy, Law Enforcement, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Latest Trend in the War Against Drunk Driving: Alcohol Detection Ankle Bracelet

From Motorists accused of driving drunk soon may be fitted with a fancy new piece of jewelry - a high-tech ankle bracelet to see if they're tipping the bottle.

The electronic device is part of an alcohol-detection system gaining popularity across the nation that can sample a person's perspiration as often as every 30 minutes to gauge consumption.

At least 4,000 people are wearing the gadget today, and another 2,800 are waiting to be outfitted in the 38 states where SCRAM, Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, is in place.

The wearer must stand within 30 feet of a modem in his home once a day for up to 15 minutes so the results can be transmitted through a telephone line to a secure computer system, which is monitored by either the manufacturer, service provider or, in some cases, probation or other court officials.

"I was impressed with the system," DuPage Chief Judge Ann Jorgensen said. "Unless you have a probation officer sitting with someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it's impossible to monitor someone all the time." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 1, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Crime-solving Goes Topsy Turvy with Technology: Non-DNA for Violent Crimes & DNA for Non-violent Crimes

Topsy turvy in a good way.  Hearing about the prevalence and expansion of DNA-analysis and DNA technology in crime labs isn't suprising these day, but I still love to hear about it.  Then again, there's still some brazen reluctance about using DNA even when it can definitively prove guilt or innocence. But here are a couple new trends that are shaking up the crime-solving scene as technology expands: digital crime labs and the expansion of DNA analysis to solve property crimes. 

Digital Crime Labs to Solve Violent Crime: Increasingly, criminals are leaving behind digital traces of their activities — on computers, cell phones, BlackBerries and other electronic devices. This week, the FBI announced it’s setting up a Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Louisville that will examine digital evidence from law enforcement agencies across Kentucky. The lab, one of 14 nationwide managed by the FBI, will be staffed by one officer each from Louisville Metro Police, the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Bureau of Investigation and Lexington Police, in addition to two FBI agents. Just as the Kentucky State Police forensic lab does when it accepts blood and DNA evidence from other departments, the new lab will analyze materials and provide a report to police, and then have experts testify about the analysis at trial. More from the . .

Expansion of DNA Analysis to Solve Property Crimes: According to a USA today review, in 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin — the total number of DNA matches in property-crime cases has exceeded the number of matches in violent crimes.  And it's all because DNA testing has become more sophisticated. DNA analysts (at national labs) can draw genetic profiles from evidence left at burglary scenes — palm prints, cigarette butts, sweat stains on gloves and masks — nearly as easily as they can get profiles from blood or semen at the scenes of violent crimes. And government grants for testing evidence, initially limited to violent crimes, now can be used to analyze DNA from property crimes. Critics say using DNA to solve non-violent crimes could raise privacy concerns by dramatically expanding the database. Some question spending millions of dollars to probe such crimes citing concern for civil liberties. But supporters of expanded DNA testing say burglars often go on to commit more serious crimes. In Alabama, about 80% of the rapes solved via DNA databasing in the past five years were linked to criminals whose DNA was taken after a burglary conviction. More from . . [Michele Berry]

October 20, 2006 in Law Enforcement, News, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Private Sector's Role in Combatting Crime in South Africa

Here's an article about the private sector's (specifically the group Business Against Crime (BAC's)) involvement in combatting crime in South Africa, most recently through leadership courses for the South African Police Services (SAPS) to improve its managment processes.  SAPS officials admit, the South African criminal justice system isn't just hindered by inadequate resources, but also, by a general lack of accountability--people just not doing their jobs and not working together.  But BAC and SAPS are working together to change that.

The partnership between BAC and SAPS isn't a new one.  In the past, BAC and SAPS have met behind closed doors, trying to avoid media interference, to implement several successful projects, including among others, the establishment of special anti-hijacking units and persuading car manufacturers (Nissan and Toyota) to employ cutting-edge micro-dot technology to prevent car theft and hijackings

BAC seeks to motivate everyday citizens to fight crime, as BAC's acronym has been used to stand for another of its latest missions, one with a pretty colorful title--(B**** About Crime).  By encouraging citizens to go ahead and, complain to the police about the criminal justice system's shortcomings and crime in general, BAC hopes the citizens and the police will, in time, always feel comfortable communicating and otherwise cooperating with each other on daily basis. [Michele Berry] 

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Justice Policy, International, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Police Departments are Acquiring the Latest Technology to Prevent. . . Tailgating?

From A number of police departments across the country are trying out technology already used in Europe to help catch drivers who follow too close to the car in front of them. Officials believe it's time to crack down on tailgating. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 5, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 2, 2006

Does Your Cell Phone Scream?

There are some crazy ringtones out there, but soon you may hear cell phones screaming.  And if so, an alarm should go off in your head--stolen phone!  A new system, called Remote XT, available in the UK, has been designed to fight cell phone thieves one scream at a time, an ever increasing concern with all-in-one devices popping up all over the market.  Here's how it works.  Remote XT sends a signal to a handset reported lost or stolen, wiping data from the stolen phone, disabling it within two minutes, and causing it to emit an alarm similar to a scream.  The service is targeted at business customers and will be available on a number of smartphone devices, including several network branded HTC models, Nokia's E and N series handsets and the Sony Ericsson P990i.  But according to UK's Mobile Counter Intelligence Magazine, there's just one catch to the system's seeming ability to outwit thieves.  If the handset is reset, it is still possible to reprogram the phone.  Details here. . . [Michele Berry]

October 2, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

National Crime Lab Directors Symposium: Managing the Technical Side of Forensics

The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) is holding its 34th Annual Workshop and Symposium, "Practical Issues Facing Crime Laboratory Managers: Managing the Technical Side of Forensics," Tues, Oct. 3 through Thurs., Oct. 5 at the San Francisco Marriott. 

A common challenge facing all crime lab directors is how to manage the increasing forensic evidence backlogs -- including fingerprints, controlled substances, trace evidence, DNA and toxicology. At last check, the largest 50 laboratories in the U.S. more than doubled their backlogs of unprocessed evidence.  "Most crime labs in our country are located in aging facilities, face growing backlogs, lack equipment, and are not fully staffed...Most forensic funding is going to DNA-only, and we need to change this or everything else suffers," says Earl Wells, President of ASCLD.  The issue of funding forensic science is currently in discussion between U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives negotiators, as part of the federal government's criminal justice budget for next year.

The symposium is being sponsored by Marshall University, a member of the Forensic Resource Network, through its cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Justice. More information. . . [Michele Berry]

October 2, 2006 in Conferences, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

CrimProf Justin Brooks Featured on First Law School Podcast

BrooksFrom In a new move to make faculty insights available to external audiences, law professors at California Western School of Law are now taking their expertise from the classroom to the iPod. On Law in 10, California Western's weekly podcast, professors provide legal analysis on current news topics, all in 10 minutes or less.

The first podcast debuted on August 24, and featured criminal law Professor Justin Brooks. Brooks--also director of the California Innocence Project--discussed media coverage, false confessions, and DNA testing concerning the 10-year-old JonBenet Ramsey murder.

The show is divided into two segments, each featuring a different legal expert and topic of interest. Listeners are able to receive a free weekly subscription using RSS feeds, with aggregators such as iTunes, Google, and Yahoo. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

September 17, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Law Meets iPod: Cal. Western Debuts "Law in 10"

CrimProf Justin Brooks and constitutional LawProf Marilyn Ireland debuted California Western's new service, Law in 10.  Law in 10, a weekly podcast broadcast on iPod, allows professors to provide legal analysis on current news topics, all in 10 minutes or less.  Brooks, who also directs the California Innocence Project, discussed media coverage, false confessions, and DNA testing concerning the 10-year-old JonBenet Ramsey murder.  Listeners of Law in 10 are able to receive a free weekly subscription using RSS feeds, with aggregators such as iTunes, Google, and Yahoo. Listeners may also listen to podcasts directly from the California Western Web site at about Law in 10. . . [Michele Berry]

September 14, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New Eye Detection Device

The state of West Virginia has spent $2 million to equip its officers with a new device that allows officer to determine if a suspect is intoxicated or on drugs by reading his pupil.  [Mark Godsey]

September 13, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Surveillance Cameras Watch Ideologies Clash

UPDATED: Here's another perspective from the SanFrancisco Chronicle: "Community, Not Just Technology, Needed in Crime Prevention"


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the city will install 50 surveillance cameras in high-crime public housing projects around the city in attempts to to reduce the recent influx of violence. But in a society where surveillance cameras seem to have become ubiquitous, and in a major city that lags far behind other cities of its size in terms of camera presence, the Mayor's announcement has generated staunch criticism. 

This column criticizes the critics. Here's an excerpt:  "Several public officials have decried the use of the security devices as an infringement on civil liberties — no matter how many criminals they help catch. And those people with thick rap sheets aren't happy about them either.  I have always been against more government interference in personal privacy, but that is hardly a big issue here. Nor is the use of surveillance cameras in general. They are not being installed in living rooms — just in the places where a lot of innocent people are terrorized.

San Francisco, reputedly one of the nation’s most technologically advanced towns, lags well behind big cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in using the electronic eyes as a crime deterrent. Those cities have had success in reducing crime — which is why they have put cameras in hot spots. Some San Francisco officials have their knickers in a twist over a desire to install less than 100. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick called the installation of surveillance cameras a “case of mistaken strategy...The mayor says he’s doing 50 other [things] to fight crime and I think he should focus on the other 49,” McGoldrick said.

And while I can applaud his unshakeable ideological stance, it flies in the face of reason. Surveillance cameras are so ubiquitous in our daily lives, we’ve come to take them for granted. There is hardly a place where anyone can go today where they aren’t electronically monitored — department stores, supermarkets, ATMs, elevators. In a post-9/11 world, is anyone really objecting that cameras have become a security staple on transportation lines, including BART and Muni?" More from The Examiner. . . [Michele Berry]

September 13, 2006 in Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, Search and Seizure, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

McGruff Says, "Take a Byte out of Cybercrime"

McGruff, the beloved crime dog has a new mission: he's taking a 'byte' out of cybercrime.  He still strongly urges children not to talk to strangers or eat unwrapped candy, but now, McGruff has expanded his mission.  Yesterday, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), the organization behind the McGruff face, in conjunction with the Chief Marketing Officer Council, formally launched Take a Bite Out of Cyber Crime, a campaign to promote awareness of the risks of cybercrime for individuals and small businesses.  According to the NCPC, only 20% of all computers have the protection needed against the many computer threats lurking out there.  Partners in the campaign include Intel, McAfee, VeriSign, USA Today,, and Comcast. Here is McGruff's site to read more about the campaign. [Michele Berry]

September 12, 2006 in News, Technology, White Collar | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Cryptology Behind the Scenes: How to Win at the Track

Just kidding, but speaking of the FBI cracking mafia codes, here's an article by FBI Forensic Cryptanalyst Daniel Olson about cryptology, the scientific study of solving criminal codes and ciphers. It briefly describes everything from sports and horse racing bookmarking codes to drug and pager codes. [Michele Berry]

September 7, 2006 in Drugs, Law Enforcement, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Confronting the CSI Effect in Wisconsin

A new DNA unit at the lab in Wausau including five analysts and a technician, a second shift at the Madison lab, and two additional lab technicians at the labs in Madison and Milwaukee are some of the changes that may be in store for Wisconsin's crime lab scene.  Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager says requests for DNA testing in Wisconsin have risen 18% compared to last year because more juries expect DNA evidence to reach a verdict.  If her plan is greeted with governor and legislature approval, the changes will be effective July 2007.  Story... [Michele Berry]

September 6, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

AZ Tests Automatic License Plate Scanners

From The Arizona Department of Public Safety has installed a system on the front of six vehicles — with more planned — that "reads" the license plates of other cars and trucks on the road. The information is fed into a computer that compares the plate with a list of stolen vehicles — as well as others police are looking for, perhaps because their owners are wanted for crimes.
A positive match sets off an alarm, allowing the officer to pull over the suspect vehicle, get positive verification by radio and, if appropriate, make an arrest.
DPS Director Roger Vanderpool said Wednesday the $22,000 devices do essentially what patrol officers do, but much faster: He said the system can review about 1,500 license plates in an eight-hour shift. Vanderpool hopes that the devices can lift Arizona out of its dubious distinction of having one of the highest vehicle-theft rates in the country. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

August 31, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

New Laws Allow for Sex Offender GPS Tracking

According to USA Today, hundreds of convicted sex offenders will have to wear a two-piece electronic tracking device for the rest of their lives under a new Wisconsin law.

In May, Wisconsin joined a rapidly rising number of states using GPS to monitor convicted sex offenders. At least 23 states are doing so, according to a survey results from The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Others have since begun or expanded GPS programs.

Congress may accelerate these states' efforts. The House and Senate have each passed sex offender bills this year that approve funding for GPS tracking and a currently drafting the final bill. More. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 7, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

FBI will Use DNA Database to Identify Missing Persons

According to USA Today, the FBI plans to use its national DNA database system to help identify not only criminals, but also missing persons and tens of thousands of unidentified bodies held by local coroners and medical examiners.

A new computer program planned for this fall will compare DNA taken from unidentified bodies to DNA submitted by family members of missing persons. The plan takes advantage of the fact that biological relatives sometimes have similar, though not identical, DNA profiles. [Mark Godsey]

May 31, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 29, 2006

FBI Dumping Gun Shot Residue Test as Junk Science

This could lead to many individuals convicted on the basis of such evidence to challenge their convictions post conviction.  Story....[Mark Godsey]

May 29, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Smart Guns

A New Jersey company is developing a new gun that can only be shot by its owner.  The firearms have grip-recognition capacity, and will be on the market in 5 years.  [Mark Godsey]

May 26, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bill to Ban Tasers Sales to Public Fails in TN

115,000 civilians have tasers.  Story here.  [Mark Godsey]

May 23, 2006 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)