Category Archives: Editorial

Golden State Killer case ushers in new era of fourth-party consent

News of the apprehension of one of the most notorious serial killers in history, the Golden State Killer, was nearly upstaged by the innovative means police used to discover his identity. Through publicly available information on a genealogy website, police were able to identify suspect Joseph DeAngelo based on the DNA of the alleged killer’s family members who had used the service. But law enforcement’s move to close a painful chapter of California history has also opened a Pandora’s box of privacy concerns.

Using DNA and ancestry sites to solve crimes: Good police work or invasion of privacy?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – More than 25 years after Lancaster County elementary teacher Christy Mirack was brutally killed, an arrest has been made using DNA evidence and a genealogy site.
The same technology led to an arrest in a 30-year-old double murder case in Seattle and also helped police identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer cases.

Adoptees turn to DNA tests for answers

DNA testing has become something revolutionary for adults who were adopted as babies or children, often without ever knowing anything about their family or background.
DNA testing can sometimes be the first concrete piece of information an adopted person has ever heard about themselves. That’s powerful.

Should Statutes of Limitations for Rape Be Abolished?

Across the country, time-limiting laws prevent scores of sexual assault cases from being prosecuted, in spite of persuasive evidence or a confession.

‘Rapid DNA Testing’ Fuels Privacy Concerns Over New Justice Technology

An automated version of DNA testing, approved by the FBI this month for use by law enforcement and backed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is sparking concerns about the growing threat to privacy posed by emerging justice technology.
One version of the so-called “Rapid DNA Analysis” system, developed by the Boston-area ANDE corporation, was the first to receive approval for use in the National DNA Index System (NDIS), the national database that contains DNA profiles from participating federal, state and local forensic labs. Fully automated, it can produce a DNA identification from a sample in just a few hours. This is much faster than standard DNA forensic testing methods, which can sometimes take days, weeks, or months.

Bad Blood

Joe Bryan, a former small-town high school principal from central Texas, is serving 99 years in prison for the brutal murder of his wife, Mickey, in 1985 — a crime he probably didn’t commit. Mr. Bryan has been locked up for about 30 years. He has no clear prospects for release other than periodic opportunities at parole, which he has been denied despite being a model prisoner and having a spotless disciplinary record. Many of the prison guards who know him best are convinced that he’s innocent.

The Justice Department is squandering progress in forensic science

Imagine this: A cop pulls you over and arrests you because you match the description of someone wanted for a heinous crime. You are innocent, but after being charged and brought to trial, you watch as experts testify with “scientific certainty” that hair and footprints at the scene match your own, and you are led from the courtroom in shackles.
This may seem like a scene straight out of a TV melodrama, but this scenario happens in real life far too often. A number of forensic techniques — including hair- and footprint-matching, mark analysis, bloodstain-pattern analysis and others — lack scientific validity and reliability yet are used frequently in our nation’s courtrooms.

Jeff Sessions’ Rejection of Science Leaves Local Prosecutors in the Dark

There’s a stack of file folders on District Attorney John Hummel’s desk that won’t stop staring at him. The folders contain the cases of defendants whose convictions were called into question when a state crime lab technician in Bend, Oregon, part of Hummel’s district, was caught tampering with evidence in 2015. The breach may have impacted more than 1,100 cases. Hummel’s office has been steadily reviewing them ever since—of the 500 cases that have been reviewed so far, 30 convictions have been vacated and those cases dismissed.

Sessions’s Assault On Forensic Science Will Lead To More Unsafe Convictions-an editorial

…Without an entity to enable forensic science to prioritize research and then streamline, simplify and accelerate forensic reform, I fear that advancements will languish and we will soon return to our old ways. Rather than lament the death of NCFS, however, I call upon universities and crime labs to partner together in forensic science reform…

Sessions Is Wrong to Take Science Out of Forensic Science

The New York times – Prosecutors applauded the April 10 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice was disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science and returning forensic science to law enforcement control. In the same statement, Mr. Sessions suspended the department’s review of closed cases for inaccurate or unsupported statements by forensic analysts, which regularly occur in fields as diverse as firearm and handwriting identification, and hair, fiber, shoe, bite mark and tire tread matching, and even fingerprinting analysis.

US police agencies with their own DNA databases stir debate

DNA seqDozens of police departments around the U.S. are amassing their own DNA databases to track criminals, a move critics say is a way around regulations governing state and national databases that restrict who can provide genetic samples and how long that information is held.

The Saga of My Rape Kit

sexual assault kit imageCambridge, England — MY rape kit was created on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 12, 1992, at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. Tiny pieces of evidence were swabbed, plucked and combed from me: bits of me and, they hoped, bits of him, to be used in court one day to prove who had done this to me. Like many evidence kits collected at that time, it was not analyzed for DNA, and became part of what is called the backlog: untested rape kits across the country, which number at minimum in the tens of thousands.

Congress should support access to post-conviction DNA testing

Justice and DNA1I’ll never forget how lonely I felt when the jury announced its guilty verdict and the courtroom erupted in applause. I thought, how could this happen? It felt surreal, but soon after reality sunk in: I could spend the rest of my life in prison until the state of Maryland executed me. I spent eight years, 11 months and 19 days locked away — two of those years on death row — for a rape and murder that I did not commit, before post-conviction DNA testing proved my innocence.

Will Philly End Its Rape Kit Backlog?

end-the-backlog-map-940x540Red states, blue states and Congress are all making it a priority. In Philadelphia… it’s complicated.

Can we still rely on DNA sampling to crack crime?

ProfileIn 1988, Pitchfork admitted raping and murdering two 15-year-old girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, after his DNA matched samples found at the scene of both crimes.
The former baker was caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, in which 5,000 men in three villages in Leicestershire were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples; he’d initially evaded capture by getting a friend to take the test for him.