Viewing entries posted in September 2012
Whilst attending the ANZFSS conference, I also learnt of the Phantom Serial Killer case in Europe. The murderer dubbed the Phantom of Heilbronn had been baffling German investigators for 2 years. The criminal was a rarity, a female serial killer, and a very busy one as police had linked DNA evidence from 40 crimes to the same woman. The papers declared the case "the most mysterious serial crime of the past century". However, it turned out that the swabs that police were using to take their DNA samples had been contaminated by one of the female workers at the cotton swab factory in Austria! The phantom case is considered the most embarrassing lapse in German DNA analysis yet. The Berlin Association of Lawyers says the case illustrates the risks of basing an investigation solely on DNA evidence. They stated that DNA evidence at a crime scene says nothing about how it got there. Read the full and fascinating story at http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1888126,00.html
Whilst attending the ANZFSS conference here in Hobart this week, the UK Forensic Science Regulator, Mr Andrew Rennison, one of the conference's keynote speakers, made mention of a case in the UK involving DNA cross-contamination, similar to the Farah Jama case here in Australia. It seems that a teenager spent 3 months in prison accused of rape in a city he had never visited because of a staggering DNA blunder. See http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dna-bungle-sees-teen-spend-759387. Andrew Rennison is soon to release a report on the matter. Whilst such cases might be few and far between, the consequences for those wrongly accused are dire.
It seems that a typographical error through manual entry into a system has seen a dramatic second bungle in the handling of DNA in the UK. The first involved the case of Adam Scott where the youth was wrongly jailed following a cross-contamination issue. See here re the typographical error case http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/calls-for-inquiry-into-astonishing-dna-error-7604130.html?origin=internalSearch
Those interested in Miscarriage of Justice cases may want to follow the Australian and New Zealand page on the international Wrongful Convictions blog at http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/category/australianew-zealand/
Last night I attended the inaugural dinner of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law (ANZAPPL) at the Upper Deck of Mures. The meeting was well attended and attracted people from all three disciplines, including the DPP and the Shadow Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin. The guest speakers were Professor James Robertson and Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty from Charles Sturt University. James spoke on miscarriage of justice cases, particularly the South Australian case of Splatt and the Victorian case of Farah Jama (where Jama was wrongly convicted due to a DNA cross-contamination issue), while Jane spoke about the CSI effect upon on jurors. It seemed like a very interesting group of people and I am looking forward to future events.
Today I am addressing a concurrent session of the ANZFSS conference (23-27 September 2012) in the Management and Quality Assurance stream on the topic of "Just How Ethical Are You?". I hope to challenge current thinking on the important issues of integrity and ethics and stimulate discussion about the ethical challenges facing forensic practitioners, particularly expert witnesses. I present some possible scenarios drawing on actual case studies. I raise concerns about how unethical behaviour of forensic practitioners can lead to a Miscarriage of Justice and loss of community confidence in the criminal justice system. I also touch on some of the difficulties facing forensic practitioners in their interface with lawyers and the courts. I suggest that improvements might be made to the ANZFSS Code of Ethics (in relation to making it clearer that the expert witness's paramount duty is to assist the court impartially) and that jurisdictions should consider something similar to the NSW Expert Witness Code of Conduct see powerpoint here
The Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) Conference is going very well. I am presenting this morning in a plenary session to the 800 delegates. A copy of my powerpoint is attached see here. I will also be writing up the presentation for the next edition of the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences. Feedback most welcome! Also giving a keynote concurrent on Wednesday afternoon entitled "Just How Ethical Are You?".
Attended Day 2 of the Death Investigation/Forensic Pathology workshop yesterday as a lead up to the ANZFSS conference. We covered SIDS and infant deaths, deaths in water, forensic anthropology, toxicology and identifying hidden homicides. Presenters were Drs. Alanah Buck (WA), Clive Cooke (WA), Don Ritchey (TAS) and Chis Lawrence (TAS). The forum was attended by police, forensic biologists, students undertaking Honours studies, a forensic anthropologist, a forensic odontologist, and people working in clinical forensic medicine. I was the only lawyer in a group of around 25 persons.
Had an absolutely fascinating day yesterday. Attended, as previously flagged, the first day of the two day workshop on Death Investigation/Forensic Pathology as a lead-up to the start of the formal 21st International Symposium of the Forensic Sciences being held by the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) here in Hobart from 23 to 27 September 2012. I remember when I was growing up how I was absolutely enthralled by the TV show Quincy, which followed the cases of the US Medical Examiner Quincy. I went on to do my Pharmacy degree at Sydney University and worked as a pharmacist for a couple of years but decided to pursue a career in forensic science. That is why I joined the NSW Police in 1981 and started studying law. After 2 years in General Duties, I then specialised and one of the areas I worked in, where I absolutely loved the work, was Coronial Investigation. I worked in a small team investigating suspicious and unusual deaths on behalf of the Coroner. The cases ranged from overdoses in hospital, people dying unexpectedly on the operating table to suicides with chemicals such as cyanide, and often involved possible medical or professional negligence (The homicide squad dealt with the criminal matters). My pharmacy degree certainly came in use at that time and the last thing that a doctor or nurse expected was for a police officer to have a Pharmacy degree. I even spent a whole week at the Glebe Morgue in Sydney (supposed mandatory training that none of my colleagues in the unit had undertaken!), under the supervision of a forensic pathologist, dissecting dead bodies and assisting with autopsies. It was probably the most fascinating time of my 30 years in policing.
An article in today's The Australian at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/police-confidence-of-suspect-in-rayney-murder-swayed-medico/story-e6frg6nf-1226478438559?from=hot-topics-Nation raises some interesting ethical issues in relation to opinions proffered by forensic scientists and their possible susceptibility to external influence. I intend to raise the matter, in general terms, in my "Just How Ethical Are You?" presentation to the ANZFSS conference here in Hobart next week.