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Friday Roundup

Something for the Crager court to read.  The other day I talked about the Ohio Supreme Court's impending reconsideration of their decision in State v. Crager, in which they held a defendant's confrontation rights weren't violated by testimony about a DNA result by an analyst other than the one who'd actually performed the test.  Central to that decision, and to the US Supreme Court's apparently contrary conclusion in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, was that the reliability of scientific evidence made cross-examination unnecessary.

Brandon Mayfield could probably tell them something about that.

Back in March of 2004, terrorists detonated bombs on several trains in Madrid, Spain, killing nearly two hundred people and injuring thousands more.  Shortly after that, Spanish police found a blue plastic bag containing detonation devices similar to those used in the bombings.  A number of latent fingerprints were found and sent to the FBI's crime lab.  A database search produced 20 possible matches, and three FBI fingerprint examiners found a "100 percent" match with Mayfield's prints.  On May 6, Mayfield, a Portland, Oregon, immigration lawyer, was arrested and held on a material witness warrant.

Nineteen days later, the FBI acknowledged that it had erred in its identification:  Mayfield's prints didn't match those on the bag after all.

Although Mayfeild's was one of the most notorious cases of forensic error, it is by no means the only one.  According to the National Innocence Project, of the 200 convictions overturned by subsequent DNA testing, 60% of them resulted from forensic errors -- everything from simple mistakes to outright fabrication.  Even supposedly simple tests, like those for drugs, can be wrong:  an examination of the NYPD crime lab in 2002 found that several chemists engaged in "drylabbing" -- issuing a report stating that drugs were present without bothering to do any actual tests.  Hair comparison analysis resulted in the conviction of any number of innocent people before it was shown to be junk science.  Even fingerprint analysis and ballistics aren't as solid as people think they are; the Detroit PD's crime lab was shut down last year after an audit found a 10% error rate in ballistics identification.

Perhaps the best thing the Crager court could do is take a look at the the report issued last February by the National Academy of Science, noting that "in some cases, substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people," and concluding that

the quality of forensic practice in most disciplines varies greatly because of the absence of adequate training and continuing education, rigorous mandatory certification and accreditation programs, adherence to robust performance standards, and effective oversight. These shortcomings obviously pose a continuing and serious threat to the quality and credibility of forensic science practice.

You can download a summary of the NAS rep0rt here; you can download the full report from the same site, but that will set you back $27.50.  You can get a copy of the National Innocence Project's amicus brief in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts here

No, you're not on it.  Thanks to Legal Blogwatch, not only do we get the rankings of the top 10 law firms in America, we find that "millenial lawyers" -- those under 30 -- do not seem to have the same drive to bill 2100 hours a year, but actually want to spend time with their spouses and children, thus earning themselves the sobriquet, in some quarters, of "the Slackoisie." 

New blogs.  Blogs, like lawyers and lawfirms, are becoming ever more specialized.  The latest indication of that is Alexandra Natapoff's Snitching Blog, which deals with... well, you can pretty much guess.  Some useful information there, such as that St. Louis police officers are resisting an inquiry into their confidential informants.  The inquiry is based not on a fear that informants are giving false information, but that the police are putting false information into search warrant affidavits, and attributing it to informants.  Natapoff also has an excellent, and timely, post about the Troy Davis case, which I talked about yesterday:  seems one of the recanting witnesses against Davis was a jailhouse informant who testified that Davis had confessed the crime to him.  The snitch now acknowledges that he got sufficient details from watching TV accounts of the crime to make up the story of Davis' "confession."

You tell me... whether this piece from the BBC is a real story or a spoof.  Here's a snippet:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

I did some checking, and haven't found anything to indicate it's not real, but this seems to be pretty much of a giveaway:

Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: "We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies."

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose "classic" slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films.

Maybe I'll start submitted briefs signed, "Respectfully submitted, Russell S. Bensing?"

Kudos.  On Tuesday, I gave a shout-out to my peeps over at the PD's office for their stellar work in State v. Cieslak, in which the 8th District held that the child enticement statute was unconstitutionally overbroad.  To balance the scales, I'm going to give a belated snap to the prosecutors in State v. Majid, which I talked about back in June.  In that case, the 8th reversed a murder conviction because one of the jurors slept through a substantial portion of the trial.  I should emphasized that it was the prosecutor, not the defense lawyers, who brought that to the trial judge's attention and made sure it was on the record.  Given that the cardinal principal of appellate practice is that if it's not in the record, it didn't happen, the conviction would not otherwise have been reversed.  That prosecutor was more interested in making sure the trial was done right than in getting a conviction, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.


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