November 19, 2007

Comparative bullet-lead analysis was discredited 2 years ago...

... and there are thousands of prisoners who were convicted in trials where this evidence was used and who are only finding out about it now.


P. Rich said...

Probably the worst form of evidence is eyewitness testimony, and the greatest failing in the legal system is lawyers. Who is going to fix those?

As in other instances of the search for error-free criminal proceedings, one has to also question such basic things as means (the gun itself), motive, opportunity, etc. included in the trial process. By the time bullet lead analysis is introduced into the proceedings, there should have been a logical sequence of events established that made it relevant.

Updating and properly applying the relevant science is a good thing. Throwing out a conviction solely on the basis of a technical error is not, nor is any implication that thousands of innocent people are in the slammer because of the error - which is the emotional "hook" in a story crafted around may's and could have's.

paul a'barge said... trials where this evidence was used...

And probably was not the only evidence used, nor was it the most damning evidence.

Keep the perps in jail. No one should walk over this baloney.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul, that doesn't make sense. Lawyers are examining the cases to find the ones were the inaccurate evidence probably affected the outcome. The task is to figure out, knowing what we know now, who doesn't belong in prison.

Cedarford said...

Echoing p. rich, the fact that a piece of evidence is now judged flawed and w/o scientific basis does not mean the case against the thug was flawed.

Lawyers and the adversarial process are at the heart of the corruption of the legal system. Subject matter experts are known to prostitute themselves to wealthy trial lawyers and criminal ddefense lawyers - "What do you want me to say in return for pay?" Those that don't "say for pay what the customer wants" may lose to a competitor that does play along.

And on the prosecutors and cops side, the focus on "victories" "career-enhancing success in getting convictions" leads labs that exist mainly to find ways to "nail indicted people" coming up with great new ideas and techniques to assist THEIR paying customers - FBI special agents, state police, lawyers wearing their prosecutor hats until the time is right to shift to the other side for more money.

On the prosecutor's side, I have great doubts of the independence of these labs, who essentially operate in competition to get the results the cops and prosecutors want. A great new famous example was in the Duke rape case, where a lab director who desperately wanted new business from the State conspired with his employer, Mike Nifong, to with hold exculpatory DNA results.

The FBI lab has been in serious trouble before on forensics and crap statistics it takes years to debunk as scientific and legal fraud.

They convicted arrested drug dealer suspects on "cocaine residue found in the micro-nanogram level on their money - indicating the money was contaminated in drug deal transactions. Then years later disclosed almost all the 20, 50, 100 dollar bill supply in certain major cities passed around to dozens of people there - all had coke contamination.

There was FBI lab fiber evidence scandal where juries were told that there was only a one in a 100 million chance "unique fibers" found on a victim or crime scene didn't come from the suspects coat...scientists hired by lawyers for a wealthy defendent found millions of the coats were sold and the fiber was also in common curtain drapes...and the FBI expert witness admitted that her one in 100 million was just a judgment call she "mentally calculated in court for one case and used ever since".

Based on an apparant motto that the customer - the "special agent is always right" especially the special agents that alone of FBI staff rise into management and budgeting - the FBI lab had, and appears to continue to have challenges about their scientific independence and impartiality.

Bogus handwriting analysis. Magically matching a partial fingerprint from the Madrid bombing to an Oregon Muslim activist they were investigating with no evidence he left the country.

1.Beware of the whores on either side in the "adversarial process". Scientific obectivity is not guaranteed.

2. Also beware that one piece of evidence found bogus does not mean the suspect or con in jail is innocent. 99% of the time, they are guilty.

3. Express a sense of wonderment that after the past massive scandals at FBI lab in the 80s they didn't do a top-to-bottom review of all their tests and their scientific and statistical validity. Or, don't expect a sense of wonderment since the folks in the Lab know who butters their bread.

Zeb Quinn said...

If the supposed matching lead evidence was presented at trial by a witness deemed by the court to be an "expert," and the person was thereafter convicted with that evidence in the mix of evidence against him, then it's only fair and just that defendant be given some kind of review as to whether this particular evidence led to the conviction (i.e., would the result have been different absent that evidence?). What's so hard about that?

It's said that in this day and age of CSI television shows people out there comprising juries are being conditioned to expect "science" to connect the defendant to the crime, or else they won't convict. All kinds of stuff is being pushed as science these days as a result. We'll probably be seeing more of this kind of scientific backtracking.

John Stodder said...

The fact is, under our system, it is impossible to know how much weight jurors gave to this kind of scientific testimony vs. other testimony. It would be so neat and pretty if we could look at a list of convicted felons and find the names of each one convicted solely on such evidence helpfully highlighted in yellow. The reality is, it will be that simple in very few cases. And this new finding will be reviewed in an adversarial process. Defendants will say the whole case falls apart without this evidence. Prosecutors will say there is overwhelming evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt even if this evidence is trashed. The convicted felon will have the burden of proof until such point as they are granted a new trial.

And what about the cases where the defendant pleaded out because he or she was advised by an attorney to do so, based on the existence of such evidence?

Sadly, it will come down to which defendants can organize the resources to get motions written and heard asking for a new trial. That process can take months if not years. Motions such as this will be opposed by prosecutors. Appellate courts can't turn things like this around quickly.

The vision of thousands of defendants getting set free all at once thanks to this finding is only going to happen if those with powers to commute sentences choose to use that power in that way to address this injustice. I don't see it happening.

My prediction is, the WaPo and 60 Minutes will look at this story again in five years and find it has only resulted in relatively few releases from prison.

Luckyoldson said...

I posted this yesterday during the thread about capital punishment.

Nobody here gives a flying fuck.

As in: paul a'barge said..."Keep the perps in jail. No one should walk over this baloney."


The dumb just keep getting dumber.

Luckyoldson said...

John Stodder said..."The fact is, under our system, it is impossible to know how much weight jurors gave to this kind of scientific testimony vs. other testimony."

Which "testimony?"

The correct testimony...or the "inaccurate evidence" presented?

If YOU were on trial...which would YOU want presented?

jeff said...

"Nobody here gives a flying fuck."

Still viewing things thru the Lucky filter huh.

I think the washington post had details on one case where the person locked up was convicted pretty much just on this particular piece of evidence. What I wonder is why did it take this long before it was questioned. Surely at some point in history there must have been some defense attorney with some sort of education in metallurgy, or knew someone who did or was at least suspicious enough to have someone test it out. Odd. So now we have eye witness testimony and lead analysis suspect, I wonder when someone will take a closer look at finger print testimony.

Luckyoldson said...

Blow me.

jeff said...

"My prediction is, the WaPo and 60 Minutes will look at this story again in five years and find it has only resulted in relatively few releases from prison."

I think you are right. I think in most cases the lead analysis was added to all the other evidence. However, if your one of those few releases, this is very good news. It does make you wonder about the science though. Look at breathalysers. In some states, the defendant isn't even allowed to challenge the accuracy of the test, or if the machine had been calibrated. Even if the machine had been calibrated, there are still a number of things that could give a inaccurate high read. You don't go to prison for life, but you could end up paying thousands of dollars for something you are not guilty of.

jeff said...

Blow me."

I thank Lucky for the demonstration of the intellectual contribution he adds to the discussion. Right out of the gate too. Possibly a record.

Blake said...

Actually, Lucky, I figured that's where Ann got the idea.

Maybe not, though, that was a long-ass thread.

Luckyoldson said...

Who knows.

It was a long post, but it's interesting that the FBI just keeps stepping in it.

P.S. Jeffrey: Even if one person is exonerated, it's worth the effort.

But of course, if it was YOU or a friend or relative who was in wouldn't want to bother with any of it...right?

jeff said...

"P.S. Jeffrey: Even if one person is exonerated, it's worth the effort."

You don't even pretend to read or comprehend what other people say anymore. That's so cute. It's also my point as demonstrated:

"However, if your one of those few releases, this is very good news."

Luckyoldson said...

I read your comment.

It started with this: "I think in most cases the lead analysis was added to all the other evidence."

And it's nice that you feel many probably won't be released and that if "your one of those few releases, this is very good news."

That's big of you.

John Stodder said...


Are my comments above your reading level?

You so consistently misinterpret what I say, as you've done on this thread, it got me wondering whether maybe there's a young-adult section of the Internet that would be more comfortable for you.