NIST names OSAC Resource Committees

As many regular readers will recall, NIST is trying to end the Wild Wild West that is the modern practice of Forensic Science. Just moments ago, they released their latest appointees:

An initiative to strengthen and bring uniformity to forensic science standards took another step forward today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology appointed 35 new members to the Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC).

The new members, selected for their expertise in law, psychology and quality assurance, will serve on three advisory committees. These OSAC Resource Committees will play a critical support role by advising the Forensic Science Standards Board, the scientific area committees and subcommittees focused on specific forensic science disciplines within OSAC as they adopt, develop and review standards.

“As our science-focused committees and subcommittees work to support the development of forensic science standards and guidelines, we expect that there will be many questions related to law, work flow processes and quality control. These resource committees will help address those,” said John Paul Jones II, associate director for OSAC affairs.

The Human Factors Committee will provide guidance on how systems design influences human performance, on how to minimize cognitive and confirmation bias, and on how to mitigate errors in complex tasks.

The Legal Resource Committee will review and provide a legal perspective on proposed standards.

The Quality Infrastructure Committee will assemble and update a Forensic Science Code of Practice, provide guidance on quality issues, and provide impact statements that inform agency management about how specific standards may affect laboratory operations. It will also work with outside standards development organizations and accrediting bodies as needed.

The resource committee members were chosen from among 1,300 OSAC applicants. They include public defenders, law school professors, prosecutors, judges, standards development experts, laboratory managers and human factors experts.

A NIST-DOJ membership selection team is reviewing applications for the remaining OSAC positions and will announce the appointments as they are completed.

To see the membership of each resource committee, please go to www.nist.gov/forensics/osac/resource-coms.cfm.

 

Human Factors Committee Members

  • Deborah A. Boehm-Davis, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, George Mason University
  • Itiel Dror, Ph.D., Principal Researcher, Cognitive Consultants International
  • Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor of Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Christian A. Meissner, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University
  • Erin Morris, Ph.D., Behavioral Sciences Research Analyst, Los Angeles County Public Defender
  • Sunita Sah, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Public Policy at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
  • Scott Shappell, Ph.D., Human Factors and Systems Department Chair, Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Dan Simon, Professor of Law and Psychology, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law, and Department of Psychology
  • Brian C. Stanton, cognitive scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • William C. Thompson, Ph.D., Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society and Psychology and Social Behavior and Law, University of California Irvine

Legal Resource Committee Members

  • Jennifer Friedman, Deputy Public Defender, Los Angeles County
  • Christine Funk, General Counsel, Department of Forensic Sciences, Washington, D.C. (local government)
  • Lynn Robitaille Garcia, General Counsel, Texas Forensic Science Commission (state government)
  • Ted R. Hunt, Chief Trial Attorney and DNA Cold Case Project Director, Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, Kansas City, MO
  • John Kacavas, United States Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice
  • David H. Kaye, Professor, Graduate Faculty, Forensic Science Program, Pennsylvania State University
  • David A. Moran, Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
  • Christopher J. Plourd, Superior Court Judge, State of California
  • Ronald S. Reinstein, Judge and Judicial Consultant, Arizona Supreme Court
  • Barry Scheck, Professor, Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University; Co-Director, Innocence Project; Commissioner, NY Commission on Forensic Science; Neufeld, Scheck, & Brustin, LLC

Quality Infrastructure Committee Members

  • Karin Athanas, Program Manager, American Association For Laboratory Accreditation
  • Sally S. Aiken, Medical Examiner, Spokane County, Washington
  • Barbara E. Andree, Forensic Chemist, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Jason Bond, Quality Assurance Coordinator, Indiana State Police Laboratory Division
  • Pamela L. Bordner, Sr. Accreditation Program Manager, ASCLD/LAB
  • Kris Cano, Forensic Laboratory Manager, Scottsdale Police Department Crime Laboratory
  • Deborah Friedman, Criminalist III, Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory
  • Matthew Gamette, Laboratory Improvement and Quality Manager, Idaho State Police Forensic Services
  • Keith Greenaway, Vice President, ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board
  • Arlene Hall, Commander, Illinois State Police, Division of Forensic Services
  • Bruce Houlihan, Director, Orange County Crime Laboratory/Orange County Sheriff-Coroner
  • Alice R. Isenberg, Ph.D., Section Chief, FBI Laboratory
  • Timothy Kupferschmid, Laboratory Director, New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner
  • Karen Reczek, Senior Standards Information Specialist, NIST Standards Coordination Office
  • Frances E. Schrotter, Sr. Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, American National Standards Institute
 

Delaware State Police (“DSP”) and the Delaware Department of Justice (“DDOJ”) initiated an investigation of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”) Controlled Substances Unit (“OCME-CSU” or “CSU”).

According to this news story, there were lots of problems found.

New details have emerged in an evidence scandal that occurred within in the Delaware Medical Examiner’s office.

A new report from Attorney General Beau Biden’s office revealed numerous “systemic operational failings” within the Chief Medical Examiner’s Controlled Substance Unit. These failings allegedly led to missing or altered drug evidence in 46 cases.

An audit discovered at least 51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence. The missing evidence includes marijuana, Oxycontin, heroin and cocaine.

The preliminary investigation, conducted by the Department of Justice and Delaware State Police, demonstrated the absence of management, oversight and security within the lab. Detailing lax security procedures, employees were described in the report as propping the drug vault door open and turning off the security alarm system.

“Employees recall having observed the door to the drug vault propped open numerous times over the years,” stated the report. “When the DSP secured the drug vault on February 20, 2014, a well-worn, wooden chock was observed in the area adjacent to the door. Based on witness interviews, investigators believe this was used to hold the door open.”

At times, drug evidence was not handled, stored or tested according to protocol, according to the investigation. Records were mismanaged and evidence was removed without being properly logged out. Additionally, the report stated that some employees lacked the training or experience needed to perform some of the tasks to which they were assigned.

The investigation has lead to the arrest of two lab employees, Forensic Investigator James Woodson and Laboratory Manager Farnam Daneshgar, along with the suspension of Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Callery.

Woodson was indicted on one count each of trafficking cocaine, theft of a controlled substance, official misconduct, and tampering with evidence.

Daneshgar was indicted on two counts of falsifying business records. According to the report, witnesses accused Daneshgar of “dry labbing,” which is the “practice of declaring a result without performing the analytical testing to produce the result.”

Overhaul Planned

The report was released as Delaware lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill that would abolish the chief medical examiner’s office and create the Division of Forensic Science. A director would oversee the division, which would be housed under the Department of Safety and Homeland Security rather than the Department of Health and Social Services.

The division would be responsible for overseeing the chief medical examiner’s office and would be responsible for working with the courts and law enforcement, investigating deaths, participating on the Criminal Justice Council and providing fatal incident reviews to the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.

“Delaware must have its own independent, state-of-the-art crime laboratory,” said Biden in a statement. “A new crime lab is the right thing for Delaware’s criminal justice system and the right thing for taxpayers.”

The legislation is being considered in the state Senate.

 

 

In case you have been living under a rock, you have heard of the NIST OSAC movement to try to reform and standardize the practice of forensic science.

You can read about the effort here:

 

NIST Names Members to First Forensic Science Standards Board

For Immediate Release: June 26, 2014

As part of its efforts to improve the scientific basis of forensic evidence used in courts of law, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have made the first appointments to a new organization dedicated to identifying and fostering development and adoption of standards and guidelines for the nation’s forensic science community.

cartridge case mark
Forensic firearms and toolmarks: Members of the new Forensic Science Standards Board will coordinate development of consensus standards by committees dedicated to various forensic science disciplines, including firearms and toolmarks. Impressions made on the surface of a cartridge case when a gun is fired can act like fingerprints to identify a specific firearm.
Credit: NIST
View hi-resolution image

NIST and DOJ named 17 academic researchers and forensic science experts to the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB), a key component of NIST’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC), which is bringing a uniform structure to what was previously an ad hoc system.

“The appointments to the Forensic Science Standards Board essentially mark a transition from planning to doing,” said NIST Acting Director Willie May. “After months of collaboration with the forensic science community, we are bringing to life this new organization that will have a positive impact on the practice of forensic science in the United States.”

The board will oversee three resource committees and five scientific area committees. Subcommittees will focus on specific disciplines, including DNA, toxicology, medico-legal death investigation, facial identification, latent fingerprints and firearms and toolmarks, among others. The subcommittees will propose consensus documentary standards, for adoption by the board, to improve quality and consistency of work in the forensic science community.

The establishment of the OSAC is part of a larger collaboration between NIST and DOJ, which announced the members of a new National Commission on Forensic Science in January 2014. A NIST-DOJ membership selection team is reviewing applications for all remaining positions in the OSAC and will announce the appointments as they are completed.

The new board includes five members who represent the research community, five members who chair the OSAC scientific area committees, six members who represent national forensic science professional organizations, and one ex officio member—Mark Stolorow, director of OSAC affairs for NIST.

The research community representatives are:

  • Joseph Francisco, Ph.D., William E. Moore distinguished professor, Purdue University;
  • Anil Jain, Ph.D., distinguished professor, Michigan State University;
  • Karen Kafadar, Ph.D., statistics professor, Indiana University; Department of Statistics professor and chair, University of Virginia; (after 8/26/2014)
  • Sarah Kerrigan, Ph.D., Forensic Science Department chair, Sam Houston State University; and
  • Douglas Ubelaker, Ph.D., curator, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Division of Physical Anthropology.

Six members were nominated by their professional associations:

  • Andrew Baker, M.D., National Association of Medical Examiners standards committee chair and Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Minn.;
  • Laurel Farrell, Society of Forensic Toxicologists director and past president and American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board instructor;
  • Steven Johnson, International Association for Identification first vice president and Ideal Innovators Inc. certified latent print examiner/facial examiner;
  • Mark Keisler, Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners past president and member-at-large and Indiana State Police Laboratory Forensic Firearms Identification Unit supervisor;
  • Barry Logan, Ph.D., American Academy of Forensic Sciences past president and NMS Labs vice president of Forensic Science Initiatives and chief of Forensic Toxicology; and
  • Jeremy Triplett, American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors advocacy committee chair and Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory supervisor.

Five members will chair the OSAC scientific area committees (SAC):

  • Richard Vorder Bruegge – SAC IT/Multimedia; Federal Bureau of Investigation, senior photographic technologist;
  • Gregory Davis, M.D. – SAC Crime Scene/Death Investigation; University of Alabama at Birmingham, professor, division director, and chief coroner/medical examiner;
  • George Herrin Jr., Ph.D. – SAC Biology/DNA; Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Division of Forensic Science deputy director;
  • Austin Hicklin – SAC Physics/Pattern; Noblis, biometrics and forensic science fellow; and
  • Scott Oulton – SAC Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis; Drug Enforcement Administration, associate deputy assistant administrator.

In the future, board appointments will be for three-year terms. These first members will serve terms of two, three, or four years, to ensure continuity.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit www.nist.gov. To learn more about OSAC, visit www.nist.gov/forensics/osac.cfm.

 

Another week, another forensic science scandal in Texas: HPD

Everything, they say, is bigger in Texas. It seems as if Texas has a new forensic science reported scandal every single week. The question is why? Why Texas? I have a theory: it’s the lawyers. Over the last 4 or so years, Texas has been on the forefront nationally in teaching its lawyers the science (or supposed science) behind forensic science. I doubt there are any other states in the US that have as many CLE program hours devoted to the science of being a criminal defense lawyer. This, of course, leads to having a generation of lawyers who apply scientific skepticism to results that are offered in court— as they should. This in turn forces the various laboratories to work harder and smarter so that they find their own mistakes rather than have them blow up in the courtroom. This all is a very good thing. Hopefully, other states will start to see the Texas impact that education in science has for defense lawyers and want to follow along or do better. So next time you see a Texas lawyer, be sure to thank her or him. I will.

Scores of cases affected after HPD crime lab analyst ousted

Investigation finds evidence of lying, tampering by tech

By Brian Rogers

June 18, 2014 | Updated: June 19, 2014 2:10pm

Scores of pending criminal cases and past convictions could be in jeopardy in the wake of revelations that a former Houston Police crime lab technician resigned after an internal investigation found evidence of lying, improper procedure and tampering with an official record.

Former DNA lab technician Peter Lentz worked on 185 criminal cases, including 51 murders or capital murders, according to letters sent out by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and obtained by the Houston Chronicle through an open records request.

“It’s a mess,” said Gerald Bourque, an attorney who has several cases in which Lentz tested the DNA evidence, including two capital murder cases, one of which went to trial earlier this year. “If you’re not following protocol, there’s potential for contamination, transference, all kinds of stuff.”

This is the latest in a series of problems to surface in recent months at HPD. A city-commissioned study showed the department failed to investigate 20,000 crimes with workable leads.

Earlier this year, Harris County prosecutors identified nearly two dozen criminal cases that could be in jeopardy after they linked them to a Houston homicide detective fired for lying and conducting shoddy investigations.

The disclosure about the technician’s resignation comes as control of the perennially troubled lab was transferred in April from HPD to a civilian-led board of directors.

Testing suspended

In 2002, forensic testing at the lab was temporarily suspended because of a number of serious management, employee and structural problems, including a leaky roof that for years dripped water on stored evidence. There was also a backlog of untested rape kits, which at one point totalled 6,600, and persisted until August 2013 when the work was outsourced.

HPD spokesman Victor Senties said Lentz worked for the lab from January 2012 until he resigned in March 2014. He said the department investigated Lentz and forwarded the findings to the district attorney’s office. He said the department would not release any further information about the allegations against Lentz or comment on the situation.

Lentz could not be reached for comment.

The district attorney’s office in April and May sent notices to alert defendants and their attorneys that Lentz falsified a worksheet, failed to recalibrate a machine and was untruthful. A Harris County grand jury investigated the technician for tampering with a government record but did not indict him on any charge, according to the letter.

By law, prosecutors have to disclose evidence that could be helpful to the defense.

Because the department would not answer questions about the investigation, the allegations remain unclear. The problem appears to have arisen over one case, but the technician’s fingerprints are on dozens of others, leading defense attorneys to ask how their cases may be affected.

One of those defense attorneys, Bourque, scheduled a hearing Thursday on the issue. He is expected to question prosecutors about whether there are other cases in which protocol was not followed and about other possible problems with the technician and the lab.

Bourque questions whether anything Lentz touched can be used as evidence, even if it is retested.

“I don’t know how they can rely on anything,” Bourque said. “If you can’t eliminate that there may have been contamination or transfer, what difference does it make if you retest it?”

Assistant Harris County District Attorney Jennifer Falk, who has two capital murder cases that are affected by the allegations including Bourque’s, said the office is looking at all of the technician’s cases and retesting anything it has doubts about.

“If the evidence has been tainted to such a degree that we don’t have confidence in it, then of course we’re not going to use it,” Falk said.

But, she said, she expects most of the issues with the DNA samples can be remedied by retesting.

Civilian oversight

Last year, Mayor Annise Parker received City Council backing to transfer management of the scandal-plagued lab from HPD to a government corporation – a nine-member independently appointed board – and make a forensic scientist the executive director.

Control of the lab was transferred to Houston Forensic Science LGC on April 3. The lab employs 85 civilian lab workers and 48 HPD officers and still operates on the upper floors of the downtown HPD headquarters.

Chairman Scott Hochberg credited HPD with finding Lentz’s mistake before the management of the lab was transferred to Houston Forensic LGC.

“It was caught by the normal process of full technical review, which every test now goes through,” Hochberg said. He said the board was briefed earlier this month that the allegations involved one control sample in one case and was caught by a routine check.

 

James Pinkerton contributed to this report.

 

By the numbers

185: cases affected (172 felonies)

51: capital murder/murder cases

57: guilty pleas

120: still pending