INNOCENT MAN SPENDS 28 YEARS IN PRISON FROM FLAWED FBI ANALYSIS MISTAKING DOG HAIR AS HUMAN

Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers are often astounded at the manufactured evidence that expert witnesses testify to while being cross-examined during trial which leads to needless convictions of people who are later proven innocent. Testimony from witnesses of agencies such as the FBI are given great weight by Jurors during trial and by Judges during sentencing.

Matisse in striped jail shirt what would he think of a man spending 28 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, in Tampa Bay Florida there are many innocent people languishing in the Pinellas Jail.
Matisse, Self Portrait Jail Shirt, 1906


Yet forensic laboratory evidence from the FBI has been found to be tainted, unreliable and based on flawed forensic techniques in polygraph cases, fingerprint cases, DNA cases and handwriting cases. Often courts even in Florida will allow expert lab reports to be read to a jury without allowing cross examination of the expert who wrote the report. 


The Washington Post notes that American Courts are reviewing questions of innocence in over 21,000 cases of failed expert testimony and lab results just from the FBI’s hair and fibers unit. The startling numbers have even more impact when you consider the actual lives destroyed. 
Santae Tribble spent 28 years of his life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. New DNA tests established that the ‘expert’ testimony and evidence from the FBI matching his hair to that of hair found at the murder seen was wrong. In fact the FBI examiner even failed to find that some of the hair examined belonged to a dog. 

The Judge signed a Certificate of Innocence stating that the Trial results must be vacated and the Post gives some insight into why:

A hair match also was critical evidence at his trial…Hair analysis was subjective and lacked scientific research into how often hairs of different people might appear to match, and the FBI lab lacked protocols to ensure that agent testimony was scientifically accurate.

The FBI agent testified at trial that the hair from the stocking matched Tribble’s “in all microscopic characteristics.” In closing arguments, the federal prosecutor went further: “There is one chance, perhaps for all we know, in 10 million that it could [be] someone else’s hair.” 

Court ordered DNA testing by a private lab confirmed that none of the 13 hairs retrieved from the crime scene shared Tribble’s genetic profile.  

One came from a dog; facts over which the FBI-trained examiners disagreed or missed outright at the trial.

The exploding scandal in forensic laboratories undermines American Justice. But so does the method by which the lab results were used. As often happens in Criminal Trials, the Federal Prosecutor argued far beyond the actual evidence in the closing argument. Isn’t this a clear example of prosecutorial misconduct?

Yet worse where is the voice of our United States Supreme Court on one of the most important issues of our time, that goes directly to America’s standards of justice, due process and fairness – the convictions of those who are actually innocent. 
Here’s Justice Scalia taking the other Justices to task for taking a Defendant’s actual innocence into account in Murder Cases:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.   

Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

Clearwater Criminal Attorney would remind Justice Scalia over a bottle or two of wine that when it comes to ‘actual innocence’ in criminal cases, the Supreme Court’s first duty is finding Justice. 

EXPLODING SCANDAL OF FORENSIC LABORATORIES LEAD TO UNACCEPTABLE CONVICTIONS OF THE INNOCENT

Forensic laboratories  are failing to abide by the high standards American justice demands and have come under scrutiny for lacking scientific standards leading to unacceptable errors all over the country. The reliability of forensic evidence is a recurring problem in federal FBI labs as well as many state labs and in Tampa Bay Florida prosecutions. What happens when the forensic laboratory tests from the state of Massachusetts can no longer be trusted? How could their problems have any significance for Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida?

Here’s an excerpt from an email sent by attorney Miriam Conrad of Massachusetts who shows us how interconnected Florida is to every other state in the country when it comes to faulty forensic laboratory results:

faulty forensic lab work has consequences for criminal cases in Florida
Bastida, Doctor’s Laboratory

I am writing to alert you to an exploding scandal in Massachusetts involving misconduct by a chemist in the Massachusetts state drug testing lab. The scope of the misconduct hasn’t been fully revealed, but is serious enough to have resulted in the closing of the lab.
While the consequences are most immediately apparent for our clients herein Massachusetts whose federal cases involved the chemist or state lab, I wanted to notify you in the event that you have any clients (past or present) whose sentences were enhanced (career offender, 851, ACCA) based on a Massachusetts drug conviction. The chemist worked in the lab from 2003 until 2012. We have recent information that at least as of 2010, she was responsible for quality control in the lab, so all results from that period of time — whether or not she did the testing — may be in doubt.

Although there are many good lab technicians such as the forenic lab that recreated a novel a blind person wrote without ink. There are also failed lab technicians who place innocent lives in jeopardy of false convictions. As you can see fabricated evidence or faulty forensic laboratory analysis can directly impact the prior record of a Defendant even if the lab test was done years ago by placing doubt upon any prior convictions based on evidence from that laboratory. And it means that Clearwater Criminal Lawyers will filing Motions for Resentencing after checking up to see if clients who were sentenced here in Florida had any prior criminal acts from Massachusetts which were wrongfully counted.

CLEARWATER CRIMINAL COURTS IN PINELLAS FLORIDA WILL SOON ALLOW MORE WITNESSES TO BE QUESTIONED AT TRIAL

One of the fundamental pillars of justice in America is that the defense is entitled to evaluate all testimony at trial thru the process of cross-examination. The constitution guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is known as the Confrontation Clause (which tho we are near Christmas has little to do with the Clause known as Santa).

For many years the Supreme Court allowed prosecutors to present evidence in an indirect manner which avoided the necessity of having witnesses confronted at trial, filtering even to our Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater Pinellas County, Forida where lab reports were found to be sufficient without testimony. However, the Supreme Court has begun to shift in favor of Defendant’s rights to cross-examine witnesses especially where expert witness testimony is proffered thru reports rather than with the actual witness at trial. Interestingly for your favorite Pinellas Crime Lawyer & Supreme Court Spectator, it seems to be driven by the conservative wing of the Court.
Part of the underlying reasoning for this shift as earlier entries in this blog have shown is the failure of Government forensic laboratories to give unbiased results.

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment is a focal point of recent litigation. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004); Melendez–Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314 (2009); Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S.Ct. 2705, 180 L.Ed.2d 610 (2011).  Listen to arguments of the case, see also for more Supreme Court audio arguments.
The Court’s opinion in Williams v. Illinois, argued December 6, should be announced soon: Is it a violation of the Confrontation Clause to allow an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing conducted by another analyst who has not appeared as a witness at the trial.          
The First Circuit recently vacated a conviction over lack of confrontation (Ramos-Gonzlez)… In this cocaine case the government adds substitute chemist Morales to the witness list shortly before trial.  Morales is called by the government testifying to the work of the previous chemist as the prosecutor failed to have Morales do his own testing… The Court stated that, “Morales’s testimony was neither cumulative of nor sufficiently corroborated by alternative evidence, and it comprised the only compelling basis for the jury to conclude a critical element of the government’s case—that the substance seized from the truck was cocaine. We cannot conclude that the presence of cocaine would have been proved without the testimony of Morales, and therefore the admission of his testimony was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

NO IT’S NOT CSI FORENSIC LAB FAILURES WITH ERRORS, LIES & FALSE TESTIMONY

Every attorney practicing Criminal Law needs to be aware that Testimony provided by Government Experts is often riddled with error. And error leads to the worst thing that can happen in criminal law, wrongful convictions.
 A new book, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward shows the failure of many crime labs to abide by scientific standards. Here are a few of their findings:

Forensic labs “lack mandatory and enforceable standards, founded on vigorous research and testing, certification requirements, and accreditation. Additionally, forensic science and forensic pathology research, education, and training lack strong ties to our research universities and national science assets.  …  In addition to the problems emanating from the fragmentation of the forensic science community, the most recently published Census of Crime Laboratories conducted by BJS describes unacceptable case backlogs in state and local crime laboratories.”  Due to documented understaffing, the NRC found that makes it difficult for the labs to avoid errors.  They find the standards of forensic practice in need of serious upgrading.  Of greater concern than that they are understaffed is the “knowledge base” problem; “Adding more dollars and people to the enterprise may reduce case backlogs, but it will not address fundamental limitations in the capabilities of forensic science disciplines to discern valid information from crime scene evidence.”

Forensic “science ” research is hap-hazard, and they criticize it being driven by “professional [i,e., LEO] cultures” with a “reliance on apprentice-type training and a guide-like structure of disciplines.” — “The fragmented nature of the enterprise raises the worrisome prospect that the quality of evidence presented in court, and its interpretation, can vary unpredictably according to jurisdiction.” The forensic science community lacks central governance to pull itself out of its current weaknesses, and none of the disciplines sees any need for change — though NRC does — they are certain that DOJ and the FBI should not be the seat of that governing body though: “There is little doubt that some existing federal entities are too wedded to the current ‘fragmented’ forensic science community, which is deficient in too many respects.  Most notably, those agencies fail to produce a rigorous research agenda to confirm the evidence reliability methodologies used.”

Now they know what we always knew: it’s like science, but not always real science with the rigors and tests of reliability real science requires; leading to real errors as well as   erroneous interpretation of results in testimony. It’s also important to note that even fingerprint evidence is often unreliable and DNA evidence can be fabricated, with the government often providing false forensics testimony.