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How Crime Scene Errors Affect Your Case

12360079 - photo of a fresh crime scene

Forensic Science Consultant, Gary A. Rini, M.F.S, D.A.B.F.E., explains various ways crime scene errors can affect your case.

Copyright: fergregory / 123RF Stock Photo

Raise your hand if you think that a single hair follicle found at the crime scene is enough evidence to convict in a court of law. (Don’t worry. You’re not alone.) It’s a common misconception that can be attributed to the likes of the CSIs and Law & Orders of the network television world. The truth is: it’s not that simple. Hair, and even fingerprint, analysis can be highly subjective and is not an exact science.

And then there’s human error

One slip from adherence to proper procedure can have devastating consequences. False negatives lead to a miscarriage of justice. And false convictions rob innocent people of their lives (sometimes literally). Here, we explore three examples of errors commonly made during crime scene investigations, and how they can drastically affect your case.

Faulty Analysis

Fingerprints, bite marks, and hair follicles are not necessarily case-makers. For decades, the FBI relied on microscopic hair comparisons. Forensic specialists would match hair characteristics through the use of a high-powered microscope. But unless it’s paired with mitochondrial DNA testing, it is not an accurate science and should never have been valued as such. The FBI has somewhat recently acknowledged that tens of thousands of convictions were made using the microscopic hair comparisons, and in Washington D.C., at least three convicted defendants have been exonerated upon review of their DNA. The FBI is still reviewing the tens of thousands of convictions that were made based on hair comparisons, but for many, it will be too late. DNA is the only way to know for sure that you’ve got your match.

Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is a far more frequent occurrence than it should be, with an estimated 1 in 100 cases falling victim to this error. The wrong samples end up in the wrong containers. The evidence from one kit winds up in another. This can happen if a technician hasn’t received proper training or simply disregards the proper procedure. If the lab technician fails to follow the rules, the consequences can be devastating, to either the family seeking justice or to the suspect in question.

(Less than) Bulletproof Evidence

CABL is the Compositional Analysis of Bullet Lead.  This is a process used by forensic scientists in order to find similarities in the lead used in bullet manufacturing, to hopefully match with a weapon and lead to a conviction. The lack of a perfect process is what keeps CABL from any kind of reliability, as far as sound evidence is concerned. The analysis of bullet makeup and/or ballistic identification leads to a testimony full of errors. It is largely based on opinion and assumption.

So, while the television shows use it for entertainment value, crime scene investigation involves complicated procedures, which, if not conducted properly, can lead to a great miscarriage of justice. It is important to understand the scientific pieces of the puzzle to ensure your rights are preserved. If you find yourself in need of a Columbus criminal attorney, Yavitch & Palmer is here to help. Contact us right away for a consultation.

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