November 30th, 2012
There are many different things that could happen with forensics in the future. It may look a lot like what you see on TV or even more high-tech and imaginative. With the way the science and technology fields are growing one can only hope that we will see advancements in forensic science techniques.
Many of the forensic accomplishments that are seen on TV are just not possible with current technology, but could be sometime in the future. For example, we currently do not have the technology to definitively match an unknown fingerprint or bullet casing to one that is in a computer database of known criminals or crimes. The database will give us some possible matches but it is not able to actually find an undisputed match. A trained examiner is responsible for ultimately making the identification from the possible matches the database has produced. If a computer could actually get to that standard of analysis it could save the examiners a great deal of time. Of course legally an examiner would most likely still have to verify the computer’s work.
In the future there may also be new techniques and methods for dusting for and lifting fingerprints, such as what is being accomplished with gel lifters. The gel lifters have recently been introduced to forensics in the United States and are able to lift prints from surfaces that have historically been impossible to lift prints from. There may also be new chemicals or methods to detect if there is blood or even DNA at a crime scene. These possible advancements all depend on the research of scientists working today.
There are more and more people going to school to pursue a career in forensics. They range from the crime scene investigator to the forensic accountant. If you are interested in forensics but not all of the science that often accompanies it, try to see if there is a way to relate your particular area of study to crime solving. Forensic science is really any discipline that you can relate to the law, so even though being an accountant is not really a “science” it is part of forensics because it can be used to solve a case.
November 5th, 2012
The past year of Amanda Knox’s life may have been better than the previous four years, but it was still far from normal.
Freed from Italian prison for now a little over a year, Amanda Knox is currently living in Seattle, lying low in a “seedy” part of town, and working on her memoir. She is dating a former boyfriend, James Terrano, a classical guitarist, and spends most of her time alone.
Amanda Knox and former-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are both releasing books this year based on their nightmarish experience.
In September, her previous boyfriend and supposed-accomplice, Raffaele Sollecito, just completed his memoir, Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox. While Knox still hasn’t given her first formal interview, considered “one of the most coveted ‘gets’ being fought over by the American networks,” Sollecito has commented on his experience extensively, even admitting to being jealous of the attention that she got. Sollecito and Knox recently met up at Knox’s grandmother’s birthday party, which helped him come to terms with the girl he once dated. Says Sollecito, he realized almost immediately after seeing her after their release that she was not the she-devil that the media played her out to be, but instead “the Amanda that [he] loved for one week.”
Knox’s book is expected to come out in spring of 2013 and will supposedly net $4 million, most of which will go towards Knox’s staggering legal fees. Until then, Knox seems content to pass unnoticed through the ethnic neighborhood of Seattle in which she lives. Not surprising, considering her nightmarish four years spent in an Italian prison. As Sollecito explained, after getting out of prison, “everything was new…[it makes you] feel like a kid inside, just discovering.”
For more on the Amanda Knox story, visit her page under In the News!
October 23rd, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
A young Rayful Edmond, draped in expensive jewelry
Called the John Gotti of Washington, D.C., notorious gangster Rayful Edmond terrorized and awed the Washington metropolitan area in the mid to late 1980’s with his tight control of the crack cocaine trade and accompanying lavish spending sprees. Known for dropping several thousand dollars a night at clubs, Edmond supposedly spent over $400,000 at a single store in the Georgetown neighborhood, whose owner was, coincidentally, convicted of money laundering soon after. Partially thanks to Edmond’s reign as drug lord, Washington, D.C. became known as the “murder capitol” during this period, as civilians grew too afraid to move about the city.
An entrepreneurial prodigy, Edmond controlled most of the drug trade within the city by his early twenties, importing millions of dollars in Columbian cocaine every week. His arrest at the age of 24 in 1989 and his subsequent trial created a media circus to rival Casey Anthony’s. Jurors were kept anonymous before, during, and after the trial, and the jury box was kept behind bulletproof glass. Edmond was transported to the court everyday from the Quantico maximum-security facility (also the location of the FBI Training Academy) via helicopter. Although these measures may seem extreme, authorities fears were far from unfound.
|At his peak,
Edmond moved 2,000 keys of cocaine a week,
and brought in $70 million
Edmond’s gang was notoriously violent. In one year, Edmond’s “employees” committed 30 murders. Overall, the gang is believed to have committed over 400 murders over the course of their run, not including the attempted murder of a local pastor during an anti-drug march.
Edmond was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Several members of his family also received sentences, including his mother, several of his sisters, and some of his cousins. Being incarcerated did not stop Edmond at first, however, and, along with his new contacts in prison, Edmond conducted his drug business via phone privileges. He received another 30 years sentence after his misconduct was found out. Since his second conviction, Edmond has become a government informant, and is now a part of the Federal Witness Protection Program. His current location is confidential.
Want to learn more about crime and punishment in our nation’s capitol? Visit our D.C. Cases page!
October 12th, 2012
By Emilee Amihere
There are 29 bones (hyoid included) in the human skull, and for many years anthropologists have been using markers from this area of the body to determine sex, age, race, and to make personal identifications. However, forensic anthropology is a science that is greatly affected by changes and new developments in social morays and folkways. Simply put, what was once socially unacceptable often becomes acceptable, and even encouraged, with time. This fact is abundantly clear when one thinks about the checkered history of the United States. While being a nation of freedom and equality, our history is colored with racism and intolerance as well. Allow your mind to travel back to the 1960s and 1970s, and think about how the idea of intermarriage and interracial relationships was taboo. Nowadays, however, these things are commonplace.
Now pseudo-science, phrenology was the science of determining an individual’s personality by studying their skull. There were 27 defined areas on the skull, including one that supposedly represented the likelihood of said individual committing murder. While phrenology is no longer a valid branch of science, it paved the way for the work that forensic scientists are doing today.
An ever-changing and in flux society makes the work of a forensic anthropologist difficult. As a result of social changes, there have been subtle and gradual changes to our skeletal make-ups. Those once clearly defined markers on the skull (as well as the rest of the body) are becoming a little less definitive. It is the responsibility of scientists to grow with the times and expand their arsenal of examination in light of these events.
For many years, it has been posited that the frontal sinus pattern in the human skull is unique to an individual, similar to the idea that fingerprints and DNA are unique. In 2008, a study was published in the Journal of Forensic Science by Roberto Cameriere and colleagues, that sought to test the accuracy of this position. As an added wrinkle, they sought to measure the rate of false positives between persons that were closely related (kin) to better understand the strengths of using sinus patterns to truly identify human remains.
Cameriere x-rayed skulls of 99 individuals from 20 families between the ages of 15 and 74 (from Northern Ireland). These specimens comprised the test group. The control group was comprised of 98 Caucasian individuals, aged between 17 and 98 years. This enabled the scientists to test the effect of closely related persons for false positives. After all the skulls were radiographed and digitally imaged with both anterior (front) and posterior (back) views, they were then statistically analyzed. They used functions and probability to measure the rates of false-positives within their sample.
The results showed that even when examining individuals from the same family group the probability of falsely identifying is very small. As well, based on their results, they posited that the rate for a false positive did not change significantly when family relation was a factor. This research and its results can be helpful when trying to solve cases (especially with closely related kin) where other heavily relied upon identifying methods (DNA fingerprints, etc.) are inconclusive. These results can provide a level of comfort to the scientist(s) attempting to make identification and serve to improve accuracy in
For more information on identifying individuals through fingerprinting, DNA, and forensic anthropology, visit our Forensic Science section!
September 28th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
These cases may not be Marbury v. Madison or Brown v. Board of Education, but they are still landmarks in the legal system. Here’s a list of the top ten Supreme Court Cases from the last five years.
National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012)—In what is casually known as the “Obamacare” decision, the Supreme Court limited the federal regulation of commerce, claiming that under the Commerce Clause the federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to expand their Medicaid programs under threat of stopping payments. Under the Taxing and Spending Clause, however, the federal government may levy taxes on individuals who choose not to make purchases. Lead by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court upheld the “individual mandate” within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Aside from securing Obama’s place within history and giving his re-election campaign a large boon, the ruling has strongly limited federal spending and its coercion of states.
United States v. Antoine Jones (2012)—When the local police suspected a D.C. nightclub owner, Antoine Jones, of narcotics possession, they secretly placed a global positioning system device on his car. After being convicted on the strength of that evidence, Jones appealed the use of it, claiming that the device constituted an unwarranted search. The Supreme Court agreed, and ruled that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle and then using the device to monitor the vehicle’s movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. This ruling is just the beginning of the legal navigations that will follow as tracking and search technology advances.
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012)—The Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bars the government from interfering in ministerial appointments for religious organizations, including hearing wrongful employment termination suits. Public opinion was divided on the ruling, with conservatives lauding the opinion and liberals asserting that religious organizations should abide by the same rules as other non-profits.
Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Graham v. Florida (2010)—In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a sentence of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, may not be imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders. In 2012, they expanded the decision to rule as cruel and unusual punishment mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders (including murder charges).
Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011)—In 2005, California passed a law criminalizing selling violent video games to minors. The Supreme Court struck the law down as unconstitutional, claiming that video games are protected forms of media speech, and states may not ban the sale of them to minors. The ruling sparked a large public controversy, with conservatives decrying the ruling as “disappointing,” and liberals invoking the threat to the First Amendment that the law had posed.
Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (2010)—In the middle of a frenzied immigration reform controversy, the Supreme Court ruled that defense attorneys must inform clients of deportation and other “collateral consequences,” or civil punishments that accompany criminal charges, under three circumstances.
- Where the law is clear, attorneys must advise their criminal clients that deportation “will” result from a conviction.
- Where the immigration consequences of a conviction are unclear, attorneys must advise that deportation “may” result.
- When the immigration is ever in question, attorneys must inform their client; they cannot remain silent on the subject.
Berghuis v. Thompkins (2010)—In the investigation of fatal shooting in 2000, a suspect, after being read his Miranda rights, stayed silent for three hours. At the end of three hours of fruitless interrogation, the police switched to a religious tack, asking the suspect if he prayed for forgiveness for the murders. When he answered yes, the police used the admission as incriminating evidence. The suspect appealed his conviction on the premise that by refusing to talk for three hours, he had invoked his right to remain silent and that the police had violated his Fifth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed 5-4, claiming that the right to remain silent does not exist unless the suspect invokes it. The decision was highly controversial, and critics decried the erosion of Miranda rights and coercive power the ruling gives the police.
Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)—The New Haven fire department administered a promotional exam to 118 firefighters. The test produced racially skewed results, where all top scorers were white with the exception of two Hispanics. Not wishing to violate Title VII, the city threw out the test results and promoted no one. The twenty candidates who received the highest scores protested, eventually bringing their case in front of the Supreme Court, who ruled that municipalities may not decline to certify the results of an otherwise fair exam merely because it would have made disproportionately more white applicants eligible for promotion.
Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)—In a particularly brutual rape case, a man raped his eight-year-old step-daughter, causing serious internal damage, and the judge sentenced him to death. The man appealed the sentencing, claiming that capital punishment for a rape charge constituted cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eight Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld his claim 5-4, decreeing that a death sentence may not be imposed for the crime of rape, when the victim did not die and death was not intended. The decision received criticism of both the heinous nature of the crime and the restriction of states’ rights from both presidential candidates at the time.
Boumediene v. Bush (2008)—In another lawsuit concerning the U.S. War on Terror and Guantanamo Bay, a prisoner challenged the United States’ right to detain him at Guantanamo Bay without a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court found that fundamental rights of the Constitution apply to the Guantanamo detainees as well, including habeas corpus.
For more on the Supreme Court, read about their recent decision on the Confrontation Clause.