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Vincennes

Flawed DNA Results

9 posts in this topic

This just hit our news on Wednesday. Since I don't know if this will reach national news, I thought I would just bring it to the entire forum.

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/03/26/police-investigate-DNA-results.html

They are really praising the Columbus police department for coming forward and owning up their mistake. There was no particular case involved that would have brought this to light had they not done so it could have been just swept under the rug. However, since they now have admitted to it they said on the local news last night that the ramifications might just be staggering. That it might bring question to over 3,000 cases where DNA evidence has been involved. Even cases in which DNA was not used in the trial but DNA was taken as part of the investigation process and the accused later confessed might be involved due to the fact that flawed DNA results were used to bring about a confession !

I'm not saying I think this is what should happen, I am just relating how far reaching they are reporting this might be.

I do think DNA has reached a level of acceptance beyond any other type of evidence that perhaps it should not have. This particular error by the Columbus police has been used to establish there was another person's DNA on the scene. As I am understanding it, if touch type DNA is contaminated by two people, the result can be a mixture and the result is a "third" person. I'm wondering how many other testing facilities might have committed the same error as well as wondering with what other type of errors are possible.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for posting this interesting article, Vincennes.

As I understand the article, contamination as you describe it in your final paragraph isn't the question in these particular cases. As the article says, it's not the "science that's in question, but the manner in which the results were reported in some cases.

I think these two paragraphs from the article give a good example of why these cases are going to review:

If just one man touches the gun, he might deposit only a few cells on the weapon. If a second man left a lot more DNA on the weapon, that would increase the probability that he handled the gun more or longer, which could be relevant in the case. It’s that probability level — or statistical weight — that was not reported to investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts.

However, O’Brien said, the statistical weighted system might be moot when, for instance, an eyewitness account of the shooting led to a suspect’s confession.

[bolding mine]

In other words, in cases where two people left DNA on an object where Person B left significantly more DNA than Person A and therefore had a greater possibility of having handled the object more/longer, the lab never told anyone that Person B was more likely to have handled the object more/longer, something which might or might not be relevant to the case.

It's all about the lab not telling appropriate people, "Here's statistical weight of this DNA. evidence which may or may not help your case."

I'm guessing that "may or may not" is going to complicate the review process and turn it into a logistical nightmare!

Edited by 2-B
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it is not the DNA that is to be questioned ~ it is the design of the machines, half baked technology that is currently widespread and the system of prosecution that is getting over reliant on DNA evidence ...

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Thanks for posting this interesting article, Vincennes.

As I understand the article, contamination as you describe it in your final paragraph isn't the question in these particular cases. As the article says, it's not the "science that's in question, but the manner in which the results were reported in some cases.

I think these two paragraphs from the article give a good example of why these cases are going to review:

If just one man touches the gun, he might deposit only a few cells on the weapon. If a second man left a lot more DNA on the weapon, that would increase the probability that he handled the gun more or longer, which could be relevant in the case. It's that probability level or statistical weight that was not reported to investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts.

However, O'Brien said, the statistical weighted system might be moot when, for instance, an eyewitness account of the shooting led to a suspect's confession.

[bolding mine]

In other words, in cases where two people left DNA on an object where Person B left significantly more DNA than Person A and therefore had a greater possibility of having handled the object more/longer, the lab never told anyone that Person B was more likely to have handled the object more/longer, something which might or might not be relevant to the case.

It's all about the lab not telling appropriate people, "Here's statistical weight of this DNA. evidence which may or may not help your case."

I'm guessing that "may or may not" is going to complicate the review process and turn it into a logistical nightmare!

You have probably done a much better job at understanding this than I have. As I said, it has just began to hit our news. Since I don't see where it has gone national yet, I'll post what they say tonight.

I guess what got to me the most was that there were mistakes because I think when it comes to DNA people now just have a tendency to look at that as the finale, non-refutable evidence. Even if I did interpret what they were saying incorrectly, it's still a mistake and one that occurred multiple times. What other mistakes are possible ? And I'm not against DNA evidence, I just think it needs to be reviewed with a mindset that mistakes are possible anywhere.

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Posted (edited)

We had an issue with DNA samples in relation to murder here in Germany 1993 to 2009, were the cotton swaps in

use were contaminated with DNA already by a worker at the manufacturer due to QM error during the packaging :

The Phantom of Heilbronn, often alternatively referred to as the "Woman Without a Face", was a hypothesized unknown female serial killer whose existence was inferred from DNA evidence found at numerous crime scenes in Austria, France and Germany from 1993 to 2009. The six murders among these included that of a police officer, Michele Kiesewetter in Heilbronn, Germany on 25 April 2007.

The only connection between the crimes was DNA, which had been recovered from 40 (latest in March 2009) crime scenes, of numerous different types of crimes ranging from murders to burglaries. In late March 2009, investigators concluded that the "Phantom" criminal did not exist, and the DNA recovered at the crime scenes had already been present on the cotton swabs used for collecting DNA samples.[1]

http://en.wikipedia....om_of_Heilbronn

Edited by toast
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I had to think of that as well. It's certainly the biggest German police fail I can remember.

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I had to think of that as well. It's certainly the biggest German police fail I can remember.

I would give that award the responsible persons in the NSU case.

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I would give that award the responsible persons in the NSU case.

True that!

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Thanks for posting this interesting article, Vincennes.

As I understand the article, contamination as you describe it in your final paragraph isn't the question in these particular cases. As the article says, it's not the "science that's in question, but the manner in which the results were reported in some cases.

I think these two paragraphs from the article give a good example of why these cases are going to review:

If just one man touches the gun, he might deposit only a few cells on the weapon. If a second man left a lot more DNA on the weapon, that would increase the probability that he handled the gun more or longer, which could be relevant in the case. It's that probability level — or statistical weight — that was not reported to investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts.

However, O'Brien said, the statistical weighted system might be moot when, for instance, an eyewitness account of the shooting led to a suspect's confession.

[bolding mine]

In other words, in cases where two people left DNA on an object where Person B left significantly more DNA than Person A and therefore had a greater possibility of having handled the object more/longer, the lab never told anyone that Person B was more likely to have handled the object more/longer, something which might or might not be relevant to the case.

It's all about the lab not telling appropriate people, "Here's statistical weight of this DNA. evidence which may or may not help your case."

I'm guessing that "may or may not" is going to complicate the review process and turn it into a logistical nightmare!

That is all very interesting. The statistical weight of DNA evidence should always have some bearing on the case but care in it's application to the case is first and foremost - it can also contribute to incorrect conclusions if used unnecessarily or "without cause".

For instance: Person A owns a gun, Person B, the suspect, gets hold of the gun on one occasion and commits a crime. Statistical evidence alone will make Person A the suspect. In a perfect world Person A will have no evidence suggesting he/she was anywhere near the scene of the crime. We don't live in a perfect world though and Person A could be a known associate of Person B based upon which the defense then uses the weight of statistical evidence to minimize the impact of correctly attributed DNA evidence against Person B. In fact statistical evidence incorrectly applied would conceivably see innocent Person A paying the price of Person B because they had more profusely handled the weapon in it's lifespan, which is just crazy.

What I think DNA evidence is begging for is a means to test its age in comparison to other DNA present on an object. AKA: there needs to be a means to test and prove which DNA evidence is the most recent left on an object so that we can be assured that it is from the last person who handled the object - unless there are mitigating factors such as persons inadvertantly picking up the same object post crime etc.

Where significant time is involved, I believe this may already take place easily aka: older DNA may be in a "degraded" state where it cannot be clearly read etc. But this needs to be able to recognized on a more minute to minute timescale such that, just as we can tell the time of death of a victim by the state of their body in decomposition, we should be able to tell the time of placement of DNA - as it would naturally degrade once it is absent from it's host aka: left in an environment hostile to biological material.

Ultimately, I don't think that 3000 cases will prove to be questionable based on the full body of evidence in each case, it will only be a fraction of the cases that will require a truly rigorous review - those where DNA was the primary factor in prosecution, absent of corroborating evidence of witnesses, timelines, lack of allibis etc.

Still, it will be laborious and time consuming - kudos to them for doing the right thing and going through the process.

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