Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fabricated DNA

(CBS) Scientists in Israel have successfully fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA, potentially undercutting what has been considered key evidence in the conviction or exoneration in crime cases, the New York Times reported.
According to the newspaper, the scientists also demonstrated that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
"Any biology undergraduate could perform this,” said Dr. Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which is published online in the journal Genetics.
The paper asserts that while DNA analysis has become a centerpiece of law enforcement, the possibility that such evidence can be faked has not been considered.
"This is potentially huge news in the world of criminal justice, which hasn’t yet even fully had the time to embrace DNA for all of its uses," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "And I suspect it won’t be long before defense attorneys are using this study to undercut DNA analysis and conclusions in cases all over the country."
"This is potentially terrible news for prosecutors and police and the military and all sorts of industries that use DNA testing to confirm or find information," Cohen adds. "As the paper’s author says, 'You can now just engineer a crime scene.' Good news for crime dramas on television but not so much to the criminal justice system."
"It’ll be interesting to see how the legal world reacts to it and whether this study will be embraced or scorned by DNA experts here in the States," Cohen said. "But you can be sure that before too long DNA evidence in criminal cases all over will be challenged based upon these findings."

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson and Hair Analysis in Forensics

In 1982, microscopic hair analysis of strands found on the body of a victim was used and Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were framed for the murder. Seventeen years later, DNA analysis of the same hair fragments was used to prove that these men were innocent.

As this case shows, hair analysis has come a long way the past thirty years.
Hair analysis, basically, is the scientific examination of a hair sample. It can be hair from a crime scene examined to find out who committed the act, or it can be hair taken from the back of your head and sent to a laboratory where it is checked for signs of health problems.
Hair analysis is still an evolving science, and while it has a lot of potential, we need to be careful about what we expect hair analysis to tell us about the person whose head it used to grow on.
The scientific basis of hair analysis
The scientific basis of hair analysis is simple: when new hair cells are forming in the hair follicle, they take in traces of substances going through the blood stream of the individual. As hair grows, the new cells push out the older ones, and as cells come out of the bulb, they die and harden - and thus create a long lasting record of whatever was in the blood of the person when they were forming.
Besides the hair stand itself, the sebum that coats the hair (from the sebaceous gland connected to the hair follicle) also contains traces of the drugs and minerals flowing through your body. And if the root or the root sheath is attached to the hair, it also provides a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) record.
Hair can thus keep a more long-lasting record of what passes through the body of an individual than either blood or urine – the body fluids which are usually used for such tests. Each hair lives about 5-6 years before it falls off the scalp.
Hair analysis techniques
A trichogram is a physical macro- and microscopic examination of hair and the scalp – the kind of hair analysis which was used to convict Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson. Today doctors use this mainly to find out why a person is losing hair, or how much of his hair are in the growing or resting or falling phases.
Modern, more sophisticated, hair analysis uses gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to chemically test hair or find its DNA composition. Usually, a pencil-tip thickness of hair close to the body (from the region behind the head just above the neck) is cut out. The hair closest to the scalp is used because it is the most recent growth, and it can be expected to show the most recent condition of the body.
The hair is usually dissolved for this procedure and the extract is analyzed for minerals, drugs, toxins or heavy metals. This data is also used, more controversially, to diagnose diseases and deficiencies/excesses in your system.
Modern methods are sensitive enough to find traces of minerals/metals/drugs that are a thousandth of a gram (microgram), or a nanogram (one billionth of a gram) or even a picogram (one thousandth of a nanogram) per gram of hair.
Hair analysis for minerals, drugs and toxins
Hair analysis is a standard medical test for chronic arsenic poisoning – the stuff of whodunits, but in real life more often seen in agricultural workers who inhale fumes containing arsenic from insecticide sprays or dust.
Another accepted use of hair analysis is to show if someone has been taking illegal drugs – cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, or alcohol. The analyst checks for the presence of the substances themselves or their metabolites (the products of the body’s metabolism of these substances) in the strand of the hair. The results of such tests have been acceptable in courts of law a long time.
But there are a few problems with this analysis –
1. False positive or negative results are possible, so results always need to be confirmed by another technique.
2. If hair analysis shows a positive result for a substance, it is difficult to say where it came from especially if it is quite commonly found. For example, for illegal drugs like marijuana a positive result might mean the person consumed the drug, or it might only mean he was physically close when someone else was smoking it.
Hair analysis in forensics
One hair analysis case in Germany in 1990s involved a dog suspected of causing a traffic accident. Later this particular dog was found innocent of the crime because DNA taken from the dog did not match DNA taken from dog hair fragments stuck to the car.
A physical examination of the hair found in the crime scene, sometimes under a microscope, can show details like the race a person belongs to, and it be used to rule out possibilities. At this level, evidence cannot be used to identify a single person. But this can be done if the hair has root or root sheath material attached, which can be used for DNA analysis of the hair. DNA fingerprinting is accepted as definitive evidence.
Hair analysis is also used in forensics to check if a person has been sticking to a drug regimen (or a no-drug regimen). A person’s hair keeps a record of amphetamines, opium, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol ingested for months. While hair analysis will not show if someone was driving under the influence or smoked pot yesterday (because even the hair closest to the scalp can be weeks old), it can show if he has been taking alcohol or pot the last month (or three or four or more months, depending on the length of hair available for analysis).
Source Link and more on Hair analysis potential and limits

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Better 10 Guilty Men Go Free than to Convict a Single Innocent Man

Published: 2009-6-9
"Better 10 Guilty Men Go Free than to Convict a Single Innocent Man"
Article provided by Paul Cramm
Visit us at www.kansascity-criminal-attorney.com
The essence of this quote forms the very cornerstone of the system of justice that separates the United States from virtually every other civilized nation. Think about the presumption of innocence; the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt; the requirement of a unanimous jury verdict. These core elements of our system of criminal justice all flow directly from the premise that the wrongful conviction of a single innocent person is ten times worse than a guilty person going unpunished.

Many of us are instinctively patriotic; downright “‘jingoistic” about the protections afforded us by the Bill of Rights: the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure of our person or effects; the right to remain silent if accused of wrongdoing; the right to be represented by counsel; the right to a trial by jury.

We take off our hats and hold our hands over our hearts when we hear the national anthem at a sporting event. We get misty eyed at images of our enlisted men and women returning from active duty. We hang our flags on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day the Fourth of July and Presidents Day.

How many of us, however, grumble disparagingly under our breath during the evening news when a photograph of a suspect is displayed during a report of a criminal investigation, based on nothing more than the suspect's race, ethnicity or socio-economic status? How many of us could truly be fair and impartial jurors in a criminal case after we have seen or read wholly unsubstantiated news accounts of the alleged incident? How many of us refrain from commenting about sensational and salacious tidbits spread about a criminal case we have seen or heard about on the news? How many of us would honestly and sincerely honor the Defendant's Constitutional Presumption of Innocence?

If you grew up in an upper middle class (or better) family and neighborhood, there may not be anyone in your immediate or extended family who has ever even been accused, let alone convicted, of a criminal offense. It’s possible that someone in your family got a DUI on his or her way home from the annual company Christmas party, or maybe someone in your family got caught with a misdemeanor amount of marijuana while in high school or college. But the reality is that true, firsthand experience with the criminal justice system is rare among most middle and upper class registered voters: the people most likely to be called for Jury Duty.

We live in truly amazing times. An event can occur in New York and someone in Los Angeles can log on to a near "real time" live video feed. We can call from San Diego to Maine on our cell phones, from our cars, and tell each other the events of our day. News media like CNN and MSNBC provide round-the-clock coverage of national and international events. Cable networks provide real-time coverage of trials across the nation. All of this provides us access to information that may be deemed wholly unsubstantiated, unreliable and inadmissible at the ultimate trial of a sensationalized crime.

Thus, can we be "good jurors" in today's day and age? Are we able to decide cases based solely on evidence admitted into court, regardless of what we may have seen or heard about a case from local and sometimes national or even international news media? Often times being fed dramatized information from the day of the crime, which happened long before trial was scheduled? Moreover, do we all still agree that it truly is “Better that 10 guilty men go free than to convict a single innocent man” or has it become too easy to ignore the reality of wrongful conviction; as long as it isn't happening to our own neighbors?

The Innocence Project has now had some 100 death sentences overturned based upon post-conviction evidence. According to their study of the first 70 cases reversed:

• Over 30 of them involved prosecutorial misconduct.
• Over 30 of them involved police misconduct which led to wrongful convictions.
• Approximately 15 of them involved false witness testimony.
• 34% of the police misconduct cases involved suppression of exculpatory evidence.
• 11% involved outright evidence fabrication.
• 37% of the prosecutorial misconduct cases involved concealing exculpatory evidence.
• 25% involved knowing use of false testimony.

Keep in mind; these statistics involve Death Penalty cases wherein the State sought to literally kill the innocent person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How many of those 100 innocent, wrongly accused citizens were convicted in the media before jury selection ever began in their trial? How many were wholly deprived of their Constitutional Presumption of Innocence? If we allow ourselves to make watershed decisions far "upstream" about whom is and is not deserving of the protections afforded by our Constitution, our entire system of justice becomes a hollow shell with a predetermined outcome.

I recently had the privilege of meeting
Dennis Fritz at local book club meeting to discuss his book “Journey Toward Justice.”
Dennis was charged along with Ronald Williamson for the murder in Ada Oklahoma that prompted John Grisham to write “The Innocent Man.” In Dennis’ book, he describes in a way that only first-hand experience allows what it was like to be accused, arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for 11 years for a crime he did not commit. The fact that OUR esteemed system of “justice” is responsible for what happened to this innocent man is chilling. We all need to remember that our system of justice is what truly separates us from all other civilized nations. The way we as a community treat those accused of crimes defines us as a nation. We must treat those accused of heinous crime with blind and impartial fairness as much for them as we do for our own integrity.

Sources:FindLaw KnowledgeBase