Posts Tagged ‘epistemics’

The Technical Obsolescence of Forensic Fraud

December 6, 2008

by Roger Koppl

I gave a webcast yesterday on “How to Improve Forensic Science.”  Online questioners challenged me on a point that I now recognize to be underappreciated: The “ACE+V methodology” of fingerprint examination lets you shop your verifications.  Let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »

CSI: Detroit

December 3, 2008

by Roger Koppl

CSI: Detroit is looking a bit less glamorous than its TV cousins.  The Detroit Free Press reports that an audit of the Detroit Crime Lab was ordered when an outside expert discovered errors in the police forensics.  The audit reveals shocking deficiencies.  The forensics monopoly of the Detroit police was broken when one Detroit defense attorney, Marvin Barnett, introduced a little competition by hiring David Balash, a retired Michigan State Police firearms expert, to examine the prosecution’s firearms forensics.

In September the Michigan State Police released its preliminary audit.  They found a false positive error rate in ballistics of almost 10%.   The report notes that “the DPD firearms unit analyzes 1,800 cases per year,” which implies about 180 false convictions per year on bogus firearms evidence alone.  Read the rest of this entry »

See “How to Improve Forensic Science” Live on the Internet

November 26, 2008

by Roger Koppl

On December 4th BrightTalk is running a “Forensic Science and Law Summit.”  I’ll be giving a talk at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time.  I’ll be using the slides from my presentation to the National Academy of Sciences committee on “Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community.”  It’s free and you can type in questions in real time as I present.  I will discuss a suite of reforms that would break the fornsic science monopoly.

I don’t expect to discuss the fingerprint scandal in Los Angeles in my BrightTalk presentation.  But I would like to talk about it here.  In October of this year an internal audit revealed problems with fingerprint identifications in Los Angeles.  The report, says the LATimes, “highlighted two cases in which criminal defendants had charges against them dropped after problems with the fingerprint analysis were exposed.”  These two were cases that were caught in time to avoid a false conviction. 

How many cases are we really talking about?  Read the rest of this entry »

Truth-challenged police forensics in Baltimore

November 20, 2008

by Roger Koppl

Most people think DNA evidence is bulletproof.  Molecular biologist and forensic scientist Dan Krane has very nice presentation on some of the problems that can arise in this area.  When the biological sample is mixed, degraded, or small, the evidence can be ambiguous, which allows subjective judgment to enter.  Recent events in Baltimore point to another problem that has nothing to do with such ambiguity.

On September 27th, the Baltimore Sun reported, “In at least nine homicide, sex assault and burglary cases, Baltimore police detectives instructed crime lab technicians not to follow up on convicted criminals’ DNA found on evidence at crime scenes because they determined it was not relevant to their investigations.”  The police have a plausible explanation.  “Police spokesman Sterling Clifford played down the significance of the discovery, saying detectives routinely make judgment calls on evidence.”  Moreover, says Clifford, “Very often those crime scenes are enormous, sometimes covering entire city blocks.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Truth-Market Failure

November 19, 2008

by Roger Koppl



A friend of mine is a public defender in the Midwest.  These days she is working on a murder case.  The county medical examiner (ME) testified for the prosecution in the case.  The defense called in an ME from a neighboring county to testify for the defense.  The two MEs have opposite opinions in the trial.   To an academic, it’s normal for two experts to disagree.  But to a prosecutor it can seem outrageous that someone on “his team” would testify for the defense, even if in a different jurisiction. 



The district attorney (DA) in the county where the defense ME works fired off an email protesting “the testimony of you or a member of your office as a defense expert in a prosecution being conducted by one of my colleagues.”  Notice that this objection is not coming from the prosecutor in the case.  It comes from the prosecutor in the county where the defense ME works.  One of his MEs has the gall to go and testify for the defense in a nearby jurisdiction.  Unthinkable! Read the rest of this entry »