CrimProf Blog

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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

DNA taint found on gun in officer shooting case

A city crime lab employee left his own DNA on the pistol police say was used to kill an off-duty Baltimore detective, indicating that a recently discovered problem with contamination at the lab may be more widespread than officials originally believed.

Evidence from the murder trial of Brandon Grimes was not among the 12 instances city officials identified last week in which lab employees introduced their own DNA into crime evidence. But lab officials testified yesterday that there are thousands of partial strands of unknown DNA in evidence samples - like the one recovered from the pistol in the Grimes case - that must be checked by hand.

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August 28, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

IMPD tries out DNA swabs on guns

Bilde Indianapolis metropolitan police will be testing a new tool that will allow officers to gather DNA from handguns at a crime scene.

During the next six months, officers will be using the Trigger ID device to swab guns before they are moved, enhancing the chances for recovering DNA evidence, according to a statement released by IMPD Lt. Jeff Duhamell.

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August 27, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

City crime lab director fired

Baltimore crime analysts have been contaminating evidence with their own DNA - a revelation that led to the dismissal this week of the city Police Department's crime lab director and prompted questions yesterday from defense attorneys and forensic experts about the professionalism of the state's biggest and busiest crime lab.

Edgar Koch, who had been the city lab's director for the past decade, was fired Tuesday because of the DNA contamination and other "operational issues," said police spokesman Sterling Clifford.

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August 21, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Va. DNA Project Is In Uncharted Territory

After Eva King Jones, 88, was raped and killed in her small-town Virginia home, a local man was accused and convicted. Now, 33 years later, police say newly discovered DNA evidence has led to the arrest of someone else.

In most instances, the decades-old case would have remained tucked away on a courthouse shelf. But Virginia State Police recently reopened the investigation based on new genetic clues uncovered during the state's unprecedented effort to use modern-day technology to find, and exonerate, innocent people.

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August 18, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

DNA testing major factor in proving innocence, convicting offenders

Nevada is once again in the bottom tier of progressive thinking.

A recent USA Today story identified the Silver State as among 25 in the country that lack requirements to preserve DNA evidence. This, despite a number of dramatic exonerations based on the critical biological material, the story said.

The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing wrongly convicted people through DNA testing, claims that since 1991, 218 defendants convicted of serious crimes of violence such as some form of sexual assault or involvement in a murder, were exonerated by DNA. Some had been on death row.

DNA evidence, however, can be a double-edged sword, assuring the convictions of those who have committed heinous offenses.

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August 17, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In lieu of DNA evidence, exoneration proves tougher

SAN DIEGO — It took more than four years of pure grunt work to free Timothy Atkins.

There was no DNA evidence to support Atkins' claims of innocence in a fatal Los Angeles carjacking. Instead, students at California Western School of Law pored over old police reports and searched for one critical witness whose false testimony had led to Atkins' 1987 conviction.

More than any other victory in the campaign to free the innocent, the work that secured Atkins' release symbolizes where the movement is heading, some of its key members say. Dogged investigative efforts such as this are likely to become more common, they say, as DNA is being used up in some of the oldest post-conviction cases, primarily because of uneven efforts by states to preserve it.

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August 7, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 21, 2008

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?

41115690 State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona's DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people. The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches -- each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the FBI's DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation's genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The FBI laboratory, which administers the national DNA database system, tried to stop distribution of Troyer's results and began an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to block similar searches elsewhere, even those ordered by courts, a Times investigation found.

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July 21, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Touch DNA" Analysis Clears Ramsey Family In JonBenet's Death

Ramseyx  The family of JonBenet Ramsey has been formally cleared of any role in the 6-year-old's 1996 murder, a Colorado prosecutor announced Wednesday, citing newly discovered DNA evidence.

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July 10, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Using DNA in smaller crimes could clog system

The story is straight out of Nancy Drew: A half-eaten corn dog found at the scene of a suburban office burglary yields DNA that links the crime to a man with 27 previous arrests. It's not fiction, though; it happened in Hennepin County, Minn., earlier this year.

New research shows that using DNA to solve property crimes like burglaries -- and not just violent crimes like homicides and sexual assaults -- is particularly effective. Last month, the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center released a study that found that DNA evidence from property crime scenes identifies suspects in twice as many cases and leads to twice as many arrests as more typical tools like witnesses and fingerprints.

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July 8, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Allow DNA tests to prove innocence and assure justice

WHEN AN INNOCENT person goes to prison, a guilty person roams our streets, free to victimize again.That is the practical reason we need to do all we reasonably can to make sure that the innocent aren’t convicted and that, if they are, those convictions are reversed and an investigation re-opened. The moral reason, of course, is that it’s wrong to imprison the innocent. We will never get those initial convictions correct 100 percent of the time, but there is a way we can improve our chance of identifying and correcting the errors. Our Legislature will have the opportunity to put it into place today.

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June 27, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Man cleared by DNA test seeks to clear record

DALLAS — The Innocence Project on Friday asked a Texas court to toss out the convictions that sent an innocent man to prison for 25 years and keeps him on probation today. DNA testing last year showed Steven Phillips was innocent of a 1982 sexual assault and burglary. In January, additional testing found that DNA evidence from the rape matched another man, Sidney Alvin Goodyear, who died in prison about a dozen years ago.

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June 22, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ronald Taylor says pardon brings new meaning to life

311xinlinegallery Ronald Gene Taylor on Thursday broke free of the bonds of the wrongful rape conviction that has defined his life for 15 years after receiving news of a pardon confirming his innocence."It's been hard to get restarted," Taylor said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "Little things, like filling out a job application or renting an apartment are hard when you have to say you are a convicted felon. Now, I am officially a free man. I am so relieved."

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June 22, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DNA Tosses Auburn Man's 1995 Murder Conviction

For the second time in less than 18 months, a Cayuga County murder conviction has been thrown out after DNA testing cast doubt on the trial verdict. Thursday, County Judge Thomas G. Leone tossed out Sammy Swift's 1995 conviction and ordered a new trial for the Auburn man. Last year, Roy Brown, who had served 15 years of a life sentence for murder, was freed from prison after DNA showed he wasn't at the scene of the crime.

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June 22, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DNA sample identifies attacker from 1985 rape case

DALLAS — A DNA sample that freed a wrongly convicted man who spent nearly 23 years behind bars implicated another man already in prison who has confessed to the crime, Dallas County prosecutors said Tuesday.DNA evidence collected after the 1985 rape of a Richardson woman matches convicted felon Kenneth Wayne Woodson, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office said. Thomas McGowan was originally convicted of the crime and served nearly 23 years in prison before being released in April."The truth is out there. There's no more doubt about anything," McGowan told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

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June 18, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

State needs to preserve trial evidence

The defense said it wanted to do more extensive testing than that performed by the prosecution.

It couldn't. The blood evidence had already been discarded by doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina. It had been stored for about two years but was trashed because the medical school needed the storage space.

No one knows if the conviction of Wesley Smith in his homicide-by-child-abuse trial would have been affected had the tests been performed. No one knows if it would have proved the defense's contention that maybe Smith's 4-month-old baby's 17 fractured ribs resulted from a rare disease that causes brittle bones. MUSC said the baby likely didn't have the disease, but it didn't test for it.

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June 17, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Use of DNA in the Investigation of High-Volume Crimes

The study compared traditional crime solving to biological evidence techniques in hundreds of cases where biological evidence was available. When conventional investigative techniques were used, a suspect was identified 12 percent of the time, compared to 31 percent of the cases using DNA evidence. In eight percent of cases built on traditional evidence alone a suspect was arrested, compared to the 16 percent arrest rate in DNA cases. The average added cost for processing a single case with DNA evidence was about $1,397. Each additional arrest—an arrest that would not have occurred without DNA processing—cost $14,169.

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June 16, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Patrick Says State's Crime Laboratories Improving

Photo_servlet Gov. Deval Patrick says the State Police Crime Lab and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are both improving after some high-profile problems.Speaking Thursday to a meeting of state prosecutors, the governor said 18,000 DNA samples in cold storage have been sifted through and prioritized.

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May 25, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Huge gains reported at crime lab's DNA unit

MAYNARD - The M-48 sits on a countertop inside a clean room where masks and gloves are required wear. It is a large, rectangular machine that resembles a doughnut box with a see-through pane, and it is one of the Commonwealth's most important crime-fighting tools.The M-48 delicately extracts DNA. "It's as if DNA were in an egg yolk," said Kristen Sullivan, supervisor of the DNA Unit at the Massachusetts State Police crime lab. "And this machine breaks open the yolk to release it."The M-48 does in an hour what it would take dozens of technicians to do in weeks.

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May 24, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ninth Circuit Affirms Grant of Habeas Based on DNA Expert's Exaggerated Claims

From  "A Nevada man sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting a young girl should be freed or given a new trial because a prosecution expert exaggerated the strength of the DNA evidence against him, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday."  You can read the rest of the article here and the Ninth Circuit's 2-1 decision here [Mike Mannheimer].

May 6, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 21, 2008

New (and somewhat Scary) Ways to use DNA

From Twenty years after DNA fingerprints were first admitted by American courts as a way to link suspects to crime scenes, a new and very different class of genetic test is approaching the bench.

Rather than simply proving, for example, that the blood on a suspect's clothes does or does not match that of a murder victim, these "second generation" DNA tests seek to shed light on the biological traits and psychological states of the accused. In effect, they allow genes to "testify" in ways never before possible, in some cases resolving long-standing legal tangles but in others raising new ones.

Already, chemical companies facing "toxic tort" claims have persuaded courts to order DNA tests on the people suing them, part of an attempt to show that the plaintiffs' own genes made them sick -- not the companies' products.

In other cases, defense attorneys are asking judges to admit test results suggesting that their clients have a genetic predisposition for violent or impulsive behavior, adding a potential "DNA defense" to a legal system that until now has held virtually everyone accountable for their actions except the insane or mentally retarded.

Some gene tests are even being touted for their capacity to help judges predict the likelihood that a convict, if released, will break the law again -- a measure of "future dangerousness" that raises questions about how far courts can go to abort crimes that have not yet been committed.

Most of these tests are still research tools hovering on the margins of admissibility; only a few have made the leap from the lab bench to the courtroom. But scientists' expanding ability to query people's genes, and lawyers' efforts to introduce those findings as evidence, are forcing scholars and judges to think in new ways about the Constitution's protections against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.

At its extreme, the prospect of getting an accurate handle on future dangerousness challenges the very notions of autonomy and free will that are at the core of any theory of criminal responsibility.

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April 21, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)