CrimProf Blog

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ABA Releases New Criminal Mental Health Reference Manual

New: Criminal Mental Health and Disability Law, Evidence and Testimony: A Comprehensive Reference Manual for Lawyer, Judges and Criminal Justice Professionals
Pre-order now with a 15% discount (January 2009)
This Comprehensive Reference Manual examines both criminal mental health and disability discrimination law from the points of view of lawyers, judges and other professionals within the criminal justice system. The manual builds on established resources within the ABA, including the Mental & Physical Disability Law Reporter, Mental Disability Law, Evidence and Testimony and Disability Discrimination Law, Evidence and Testimony. It synthesizes the best and most recent information at the ABA on mental health and discrimination law that specifically pertains to criminal justice matters. It also references the ABA's Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. Regular: $110; $93.50 discounted. 458 pages. View contents. Order today

January 22, 2009 in Evidence, Mentally Ill, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mistakes in fingerprint analysis trigger review of nearly 1,000 LAPD cases

Los Angeles Police Department fingerprint examiners who falsely implicated at least two people in crimes have been linked to nearly 1,000 other criminal cases that authorities say must now be reviewed to ensure that similar errors weren't made.

Nearly two dozen of those cases are awaiting trial in the Los Angeles court system, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty Steve Cooley.

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January 15, 2009 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Federal rules bode ill for federal judge

Next month's trial of U.S. District Judge Sam Kent is likely to be a sad and sordid affair.

According to federal indictments, one handed down Tuesday, two former female employees accuse him of sexually forcing himself on them. He contends that both, for differing reasons, are lying.

The evidence against Kent will hardly be edifying.

To refute it, Kent's lawyer, highly-regarded Dick DeGuerin, will have to attack the credibility of the women.

But modern rules of evidence, say legal experts, limit traditional methods of attacking the character of accusers. And a federal rule instituted in the 1990s may open Kent's own past behavior to examination.

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January 11, 2009 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Officials describe search for state's top forensic pathologist as tough

Officials are moving closer to hiring Mississippi's first medical examiner in more than a decade.It is progressing," said Sam Howell, director of the State Crime Lab. "They are looking at some candidates to be interviewed."

The medical examiner's post has been vacant since the mid-1990s. During that time, Dr. Steven Hayne performed most of the autopsies.

On Aug. 4, Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson sent out a letter, removing Hayne from the list of approved pathologists.

Simpson said then that the state planned to hire a medical examiner for the $200,000-a-year position.

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January 2, 2009 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Circuit Court Finds Defendant Had Right to Cross-Examine Witness about Swastika Tattoos

The broad discretion that the Sixth Amendment confrontation clause provides to trial judges to control the presentation of evidence was abused when a federal district judge barred a defendant from cross-examining a government witness about the witness's swastika tattoos, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held Nov. 18 (United States v. Figueroa, 2d Cir., No. 06-1595-cr, 11/18/08).

The court reasoned that the witness's tattoos tended to suggest that the witness would lie in court about ethnic groups, including the one to which the accused said he belonged.

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law, Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LAPD's Fingerprint Lab Isn't Up to the Task

Late on the morning of April 14, 2006, a troubling letter rolled off the fax machine in the harried, disordered fingerprint unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Months before, one of the unit's print specialists had determined that several prints lifted from a cellphone store where a burglary had occurred belonged to Maria Maldonado, a 25-year-old hospital technician. Two others in the unit had signed off on the work. The match had given authorities the evidence they needed to arrest the woman and charge her with the crime. When the case went before a judge, however, a renowned fingerprint expert testified that the police had made a mistake.
The district attorney's office sent the fax demanding answers.

The analysts stood by their work, but days later the file containing the suspected burglar's prints mysteriously disappeared from the unlocked drawer where it was kept. Working from copies of the prints, others in the unit and outside consultants later concluded that Maldonado had, in fact, been wrongly accused, and the charges were dropped.

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November 18, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Put scientists, not cops, in crime labs

The Michigan State Police released a final report late last month on the firearms unit of the Detroit Police Crime Lab. It’s a highly disturbing document.

MSP found, among other deficiencies, that guns and bullets were kept unsecured and unprotected from possible loss and contamination; that essential records were missing in some 90% of the files; that critical scientific equipment had never been properly calibrated; and that many of the firearms examiners were untrained and unqualified.

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November 13, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

City: No 'patterns of abuse' in obstruction arrests

Accidentally caught in an after-midnight clash between police and revelers, Richardson was doused with pepper spray, punched in the head and shot with a stun gun in the parking lot of the McDonald's near Seattle Center.

Prosecutors followed with charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest -- so-called contempt of cop charges that some defense lawyers say are filed to justify otherwise unwarranted arrests.

A Seattle P-I investigation earlier this year showed that nearly half of those arrested by Seattle police officers on obstruction charges from 2002 to 2007 were freed without conviction.

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November 5, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crime lab shutdown slammed as too fast

A group of scientists told the Detroit City Council on Tuesday that the closing of the police crime lab was hasty and left a slew of employees with tarnished reputations and job uncertainty.

Cathy Carr, 50, a senior forensic biologist, said the decision to close the entire lab has left her colleagues full of paranoia and stress.

Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. and Police Chief James Barren closed the lab, which employs about 68 people, last week after a preliminary audit indicated about a 10% rate of inaccuracies related to ballistics evidence testing involving firearms.

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October 1, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cards could help uncover cold case clues

Art_cards TROY, New York (CNN) -- While inmates in jails across New York pass the time by playing card games -- poker, gin rummy and solitaire -- they may also be helping crack cold cases.

The idea is simple: Each of the 52 playing cards contains information about a murder, a missing person or another unsolved crime.

Inmates know information law enforcement agents don't, and as corrections officers can attest, inmates love to talk as long as it's not about their own crimes.

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August 26, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Legwork, lab work the real stars of 'CSI: Dallas'Legwork, lab work the real stars of 'CSI: Dallas'

Dalla For years, police detectives around the country have mocked the miraculous way investigators on hit TV shows such as CSI: Miami ply their trade: Computers instantly identify matching fingerprints, labs return DNA samples in an hour and the crime unit supervisor, Horatio Caine, draws his gun as often as he flashes his badge.

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July 31, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tech release of records omits key materials

Virginia Tech will withhold officials' notes and some details concerning the shooter

BLACKSBURG -- Some of the deepest secrets about Seung-Hui Cho's killing rampage at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, may never be made public.

Disclosure of the essential facts of the tragedy in a public archive was a key part of a settlement last month with victims' families, reached after the university released thousands of pages of internal documents to their lawyers.

But a Richmond Times-Dispatch review of an estimated 20,000 pages of those documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, found almost nothing about key issues the families wanted to be made public. Tech withheld from the newspaper some of the documents it released to the families.

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July 22, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 21, 2008

U.S. Is Alone in Rejecting All Evidence if Police Err

18exclude02_600 Bradley Harrison was driving a rented Dodge Durango from Vancouver to Toronto in the fall of 2004 with 77 pounds of cocaine in the trunk when a police officer pulled him over, found the drugs and arrested him. A year and a half later, an Ontario trial judge ruled that the officer’s conduct was a “brazen and flagrant” violation of Mr. Harrison’s rights. The officer’s explanation for stopping and searching Mr. Harrison — confusion about a license plate — was contrived and defied credibility, the judge said, and the search “was certainly not reasonable.” In the United States, that would have been good news for Mr. Harrison. Under the American legal system’s exclusionary rule, the evidence against Mr. Harrison would have been suppressed as the result of an unlawful search.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CSI: Anchorage -- great expectations

3593727661_highlight_prod_affiliate Police, frustrated by an uncooperative suspect, get a court order for his DNA. They throw on a pot of coffee, and, before the first cup is gone, the lab has results: a perfect match to the atom-sized sample collected at the crime scene. A full confession will be coming right after these messages.Too bad it's not that easy in real life. Ideally, forensic scientists would test every fiber, every drop of blood they find at a crime scene. But if they did, it would be all they did. A DNA case, for example, can take up to 60 days to close because of the screening, extraction and replication process -- a far cry from TV-land testing.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Washington State Calls for Improvements to Remedy Evidence Accuracy Problem

From After a series of reports criticizing the handling of evidence at Washington crime labs, the state's Forensic Investigations Council has weighed in, agreeing that an employee who falsely certified test results cast "a cloud of doubt" over the workings of the entire laboratory system.

But after making six recommendations for improvement, the group of local government representatives and pathologists who make up the council praised the majority of lab workers as "dedicated, hard-working" and honest.

They "certainly did not deserve to have the actions of two people affect the public perception of their work," the report concludes.

Doubts about the accuracy of the lab's breath-test results surfaced last summer, when toxicology lab manager Ann Marie Gordon was accused of signing off on scientific tests in cases she hadn't actually done.

Another employee, Evan Thompson, made technical errors and violated lab procedures when analyzing a bullet's trajectory.

Both have since resigned.

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April 27, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bigger Ballistics Database Shot Down

From In recent years, some lawmakers and gun control groups have pushed for a national database that would record the ballistics signature of every gun sold in the United States. But a new report from a prestigious scientific panel says it's probably not a good idea.

The series of deadly sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002 inspired some lawmakers to start thinking about a national database.

By comparing bullets taken from the victims, investigators knew that the shootings were linked. But to what gun? Whose gun? Police couldn't tell. The federal government does have a database of markings on bullets that police can search, but it includes only guns that have been already used in a crime.

That led some lawmakers to wonder whether the unique markings left by all guns should be recorded — whether the guns should be fired and their ballistic signatures noted before they were sold. That way, if the guns were ever used in crimes, investigators could trace them.

But it wasn't clear if the technology was ready. So the Department of Justice took the problem to the National Research Council, which gives the government independent advice on science issues. A panel spent four years looking at the idea.

The panel's verdict? "At this time, it really is not feasible," says John Rolph, who chaired the panel. Rolph is a statistician from the University of Southern California. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

March 6, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Art of Judging Science

from From Perry Mason to Law & Order, legal dramas have proved among the most predictably popular series on American television. In such shows, a defendant's guilt or innocence typically comes to light only after expert witnesses testify before a jury, justifying—or challenging—theories about how a defendant could have perpetrated the crime.

Much of what people know—or think they know—about U.S. jurisprudence traces to such shows about criminal cases. What few nonlawyers realize is that these shows aren't especially good models of cases involving torts-noncriminal suits where plaintiffs claim harm from a company's products or activities. In these cases, judges frequently bar from the courtroom at least some scientific experts and the data on which they might have testified. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 21, 2008 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cell phone Cameras Are providing Investigators with new Ammunition

From Cellphones, which often contain personal information like contact lists and call histories, have long served as a valuable police tool in criminal investigations. But the spread of built-in cameras -- which in some newer phones can even record video -- is providing investigators with new ammunition, thanks to simple human behavior. Apparently even criminals like snapping cellphone photos of themselves.

The result in many police precincts is an unexpected windfall. In the small city of Nashua, N.H., one prosecutor estimates that cellphone photos provide useful evidence 40 or 50 times a year. At least a half-dozen small software companies are now peddling programs designed to help investigators download data from suspects' cellphones without compromising the evidence. Earlier this year, the federal government's National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a paper outlining techniques for doing forensic work on cellphones.

Cellphone forensics do present some challenges. Unlike personal computers, cellphones feature a multitude of proprietary operating systems, requiring investigators to use different methods for extracting data from different phones. By law, police making an arrest aren't allowed to examine a phone's photos without a search warrant. And police must remember to obtain the phone's charger; retrieving information isn't easy if the battery goes dead.

By and large, however, the cellphone photo trend is welcomed by police and prosecutors. "We pray for those kinds of cases," says Debra Collins, an assistant state attorney in New Britain, Conn. Last spring, Ms. Collins obtained guilty pleas from two young men who had used a friend's camera phone to record one of them igniting a car by tossing fireworks into an open window. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

December 9, 2007 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

FBI Fail to Alert Defendents of the Failure of Comparative Bullet-Lead Analysis

From Hundreds of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is closing, a joint investigation by the Washington Post and Sixty Minutes has found.

The science, known as comparative bullet-lead analysis, was first used after President John F Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The technique used chemistry to link crime-scene bullets to ones possessed by suspects on the theory that each batch of lead had a unique elemental makeup.

In 2004, however, the nation's most prestigious scientific body concluded that variations in the manufacturing process rendered the FBI's testimony about the science "unreliable and potentially misleading." Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences said that decades of FBI statements to jurors linking a particular bullet to those found in a suspect's gun or cartridge box were so overstated that such testimony should be considered "misleading under federal rules of evidence."

A year later, the bureau abandoned the analysis.

But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau's managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 18, 2007 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

FBI Gunshot Residue Testing Questioned in Case

From FBI testing of gunshot residue in the slaying of a pregnant Katy woman violated agency guidelines and yielded contradictory results, and therefore should not be allowed into evidence in her husband's murder trial, his attorney said.

"In other words, the state would offer such evidence only to mislead the jury," defense attorney Dick DeGuerin stated in a written motion to state District Judge Doug Shaver, who is presiding over the trial.

David Temple's murder trial began two weeks ago. The question of whether the gunshot residue will be allowed into evidence will be decided at a hearing Monday.

Neither the defense nor Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler, who is prosecuting the case, would comment on the motion.

Belinda Temple was shot to death in the couple's home on Jan. 11, 1999. According to his statement, David Temple told investigators that someone had broken into their home and killed her.

Detectives from the Harris County Sheriff's Office concluded that the break-in had been staged, and that Temple had been having an affair with a woman he later married.

During the murder investigation, officials collected several items belonging to David Temple — a shirt, a warm-up jacket and a pair of tennis shoes — for gunshot residue analysis at the FBI's national crime laboratory in Quantico, Va.

According to DeGuerin's motion, the shirt and jacket were not received by the FBI lab until May 2000, 16 months after the killing. It was almost three more years — April 2003 — before the agency received the shoes. During the time in between, the evidence had been stored by the sheriff's office "under unknown conditions," according to the motion. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 1, 2007 in Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)