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Blood is Thicker Than Ink: Familial DNA In The Evidence And Court Rooms.

familial-dna

This article in Wired got me hooked on all things “familial DNA”.  Here’s an intriguing excerpt and lead-in explanation to the concept:

From WIRED:

THE THREE MEN who showed up at Michael Usry’s door last December were unfailingly polite. They told him they were cops investigating a hit-and-run that had occurred a few blocks away, near New Orleans City Park, and they invited Usry to accompany them to a police station so he could answer some questions. Certain that he hadn’t committed any crime, the 36-year-old filmmaker agreed to make the trip.

The situation got weird in the car. As they drove, the cops prodded Usry for details of a 1998 trip he’d taken to Rexburg, Idaho, where two of his sisters later attended college—a detail they’d gleaned by studying his Facebook page. “They were like, ‘We know high school kids do some crazy things—were you drinking? Did you meet anybody?’” Usry recalls. The grilling continued downtown until one of the three men—an FBI agent—told Usry he wanted to swab the inside of Usry’s cheek but wouldn’t explain his reason for doing so, though he emphasized that their warrant meant Usry could not refuse.

The bewildered Usry soon learned that he was a suspect in the 1996 murder of an Idaho Falls teenager named Angie Dodge. Though a man had been convicted of that crime after giving an iffy confession, his DNA didn’t match what was found at the crime scene. Detectives had focused on Usry after running a familial DNA search, a technique that allows investigators to identify suspects who don’t have DNA in a law enforcement database but whose close relatives have had their genetic profiles cataloged. In Usry’s case the crime scene DNA bore numerous similarities to that of Usry’s father, who years earlier had donated a DNA sample to a genealogy project through his Mormon church in Mississippi. That project’s database was later purchased by Ancestry, which made it publicly searchable—a decision that didn’t take into account the possibility that cops might someday use it to hunt for genetic leads.

Usry, whose story was first reported in The New Orleans Advocate, was finally cleared after a nerve-racking 33-day wait—the DNA extracted from his cheek cells didn’t match that of Dodge’s killer, whom detectives still seek. But the fact that he fell under suspicion in the first place is the latest sign that it’s time to set ground rules for familial DNA searching, before misuse of the imperfect technology starts ruining lives.

Mitch Morrissey, Denver’s district attorney and one of the nation’s leading advocates for familial DNA searching, stresses that the technology is “an innovative approach to investigating challenging cases, particularly cold cases where the victims are women or children and traditional investigative tactics fail to yield a solid suspect.” Familial DNA searches have indeed helped nab people who might otherwise have evaded justice. In the most celebrated example, Los Angeles police arrested a man believed to be the Grim Sleeper serial killer after discovering that the crime scene DNA shared a significant number of genetic markers with that of a convicted felon—who turned out to be the man’s son.

Pitching forward to today when over the weekend, I caught this bit of news on the radio:

Bill Medley’s (of the Righteous Brothers) ex-wife’ s murderer was captured – 44 years later and via the use of familiar DNA – a suspect identified through examination of his family member’s DNA.

From the Washington Post:

Nearly 41 years to the day after the brutal death of Karen Klaas, her 1976 murder has been solved, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The case captivated the public four decades ago because of its shocking circumstances and a celebrity connection: Klaas had been attacked at her home in Hermosa Beach, a small oceanfront California city that even now sees only a handful of murders per decade.

Klaas also was the ex-wife of Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley, whose voice had become ubiquitous in the 1960s with hits like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” and “Unchained Melody.”

On Jan. 30, 1976, police found the 32-year-old Klaas unconscious at home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with her pantyhose, police said.

Klaas was taken to a hospital, where she remained comatose for five days. She died Feb. 4, 1976.

 

Her murder would remain Hermosa Beach’s longest-running cold case, detectives said in 2009, when they renewed their plea to the public for any witnesses to come forward, the Associated Press reported then.

At the time, detectives released new details about the suspected killer — a “shaggy-haired, bearded man in a trench coat and blue jeans” — based on two witnesses who said they had seen him leaving Klaas’s house, the AP reported.

Detectives had been able to obtain a DNA profile of Klaas’s murderer in the 1990s, but no profiles in the national DNA database were ever a match, according to the AP.

In statements over the weekend, the sheriff’s department did not name suspects or specify whether any arrests had been made — only noting that the case had been solved by using “familial DNA, which identified the killer.”

The use of familial DNA emerged over the past decade as a way for investigators to search for “close-to-perfect matches” among relatives of a convict, The Washington Post reported in 2008.

However, the technique has also attracted criticism and ethical questions from those who argue that family members could become “genetic informants” without consent.

“If practiced routinely, we would be subjecting hundreds of thousands of innocent people who happen to be relatives of individuals in the FBI database to lifelong genetic surveillance,” Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Post at the time.

(We waited as long as we could for that update today but it was finally time to publish.  We will be updating this Bulletin accordingly this week.)

Truly life becomes a circle – with the present affected by the past for future outcomes (investigation, trial, sentencing) – with criminal evidence science.

We’ll keep you posted.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.

 

 

fMRIs In The Courtroom, Gaining Acceptability?

fmri

New News: President Donald Trump, by executive action, has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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For several years now, since reading the fascinating case out of India, wherein a woman was convicted of murder via fMRI (functional MRI) evidence, we have remained riveted on this relatively new neuro-imaging tool as it relates to courtroom application.

Below we bring you up to date on the use of fMRIs in US courtrooms and the arguments for its use in a legal venue.

fMRI Use in the courtroom: 

Grey Matters publication, Fall 2016

Neuroimaging evidence is a complex topic, and an important one to understand, considering how it could potentially alter the way cases involving the NGRI plea are tried. As demonstrated by the cases of Dugan and Hinckley, the legal system must now decide how to evaluate the potential neuroimaging offers.  Full article (starts on page 20)

In support of fMRIs in the courtroom:

One of the best arguments for continued research into the application of fMRIs (functional MRIs) in the courtroom comes from Sunaina Rajani, in the Kennedy School Review, (a Harvard Kennedy School student publication), October 2016:

(excerpt):

Objective Criteria of Criminal Responsibility

Robert Proctor, clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute, says that “expert opinion is often presented under a veneer of objectivity.” Norms, implicit biases, and lack of neuroscientific knowledge affect determination of criminal culpability, thereby increasing the chance of human error. Not only does this bias shape judges’ evidentiary calls but also their statutory interpretations. Often an expert’s evaluation entails a review of the defendant’s medical records, an interview of the defendant, and, if the defendant is lucky, essential interviews with witnesses and family members.  This evaluation, too, is ultimately subjective but could be enhanced by neuroscience.

In jury trials, determination of insanity remains a subjective conclusion that a jury may or may not accept. The question, then, is whether neuroscientific advances will be useful in the courtroom. Proctor adds, that we can help improve criminal responsibility analysis by “applying universally accepted scientific sources and methods of analyzing and interpreting the science of mental disease and defect” to ultimately will ensure fair access to justice in our criminal justice system.

In the neuroscientific sphere, fMRI studies have developed a robust composite of average brain activity that can be compared to a defendant’s state of mind. In doing so, courts might be able to assess capacity, impulsivity, and fear management through a more objective lens. For example, when one experiences fear, scientists can assess to what degree can one generally ‘distinguish right from wrong’ by comparing brain activity. Moreover, recent brain imaging techniques can assess impaired EF and other cognitive abilities, thereby improving a jury’s overall evaluation of the defendant’s ability to distinguish right from wrong.

It is important these neurotechnologies are applied not only in individual courts, but uniformly throughout the justice system. Depending on the justice system’s level of neuroscientific awareness and the court’s standards, judicial interpretations vary. Unfairly, similarly-situated defendants may receive different outcomes, especially in terms of sentencing. Setting standards using awareness of neuroscientific advances could ultimately help reduce these disparities and better tailor sentencing outcomes to minimize recidivism.

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Also in favor of fMRIs in the courtroom but from the perspective of mentally ill defendants is this well thought out piece from the Center For Law and Science

fMRI in the Courtroom: Brain Scans and Mental Illness

Published: June 5, 2015

One of the many obstacles facing juries throughout the history of the legal system has been the question of expert testimony. It has long been the practice of both prosecution and defense to hire professionals from any field to testify in hopes of tilting the case in favor of their client. However, deciding whether evidence presented by these individuals is actually “expert” frequently proves challenging. In the case of determining whether a defendant has a mental illness, juries have historically had to rely on the often-vague characterizations found in the DSM-IV and “expert” psychiatrists to interpret them.

Fortunately, breakthroughs in fMRI scanning may turn the tables on this highly subjective system and give juries something much more concrete to use. Over the past decade, many mental illnesses have been reliably localized by consistently abnormal hemodynamic response in various brain areas. This has not only allowed observers the ability to see general categories of mental disorder, but even to distinguish between various degrees and small variations within an individual disease’s spectrum. The most recent breakthrough happened this past September for Postpartum Depression, while researchers have been progressively better at localizing Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

It is my hope that an increased use of such fMRI evidence in the courtroom will lend jurors a much clearer view of mental illness, without the need of subjective interpretations from expert testimony. While these middlemen may understand the nature of mental illness, many lay people do not recognize that a mental disorder indicates structural abnormalities in the brain, not simple weakness in character. While our imaging technology may not be advanced enough to locate mental abnormalities in the same way that an X-ray would locate a fractured hip, I think that fMRIs will be continue to increase in accuracy and relevance to major courtroom issues.

However one stands on the ethics or scientific application involved in fMRI use in the courtroom, we cannot deny its inevitability.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

 

Witness Statement Checklist; Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)

NEW NEWS:   New York passes law making it illegal to list short-term rentals on Airbnb (update 01.13.2017) Unless you’re renting it out for longer than 30 days, renting out your apartment in NY is against the law.

car-accident

Witness statements are critical to just about every case a lawyer undertakes.   Among the many items that a thorough statement provides the attorney, the initial intake should contain verification of the incident occurrence, liability potential and causal factors.  For the purpose of being thorough, we have developed proprietary witness statement checklist for various types incidents – ranging from motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) to construction site accidents to elevator/escalator incidents and everything in between.  Below is a sample of our standard MVA witness statement checklist. (Of course, each incident is unique so the investigator taking the statement should be aware of all of the comments made by a witness, including those not listed on this checklist.)

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MVA WITNESS STATEMENT CHECKLIST

This checklist contains items that must be addressed for a witness statement to be considered complete.  (One checklist per vehicle involved.)

1. WITNESS PEDIGREE (to include name, address, phone, DOB, SSN, employment/education and licensed driver info)

2. WEATHER CONDITIONS (including possible glare)

3. LIGHTING CONDITIONS

4. SURFACE CONDITIONS (roadways, shoulders…)

5. DEBRIS/CONSTRUCTION PRESENT

6. DESCRIPTION OF ROADWAY (# of lanes, travel direction, divider present…)

7. TRAFFIC SIGNS/ DEVICES/ PRESENCE OF TRAFFIC AGENT

8. DIRECTION OF TRAVEL OF PARTICIPANTS (drivers/pedestrians…)

9. DESCRIPTION OF ACCIDENT (detailed)

10. ALCOHOL/DRUG INVOLVEMENT

11. WHERE WAS THE DRIVER GOING?

12. RATE OF SPEED

13. FORCE OF IMPACT

14. DAMAGE TO VEHICLE (detailed)

15. POSITION OF OCCUPANTS

16. OBSERVABLE INJURIES SUSTAINED (detailed)

17. MEDICAL ATTENTION RENDERED AT SCENE

18. EMERGENCY/OFFICIAL VEHICLE AND PERSONNEL RESPONSE

19. POSITION OF VEHICLE AFTER IMPACT

20. SUMMONSES ISSUED

21. STATEMENT(S) MADE AT SCENE

22. ADDITIONAL WITNESSES

23. WAS THE VEHICLE TOWED? WHERE?

Our witness statement reports contain not only the witness statements themselves, but assessments of the witnesses interviewed (and the packet can be expanded to a full site survey which includes diagrams, 360-degree photos/video, 3-d modeling, if required. light sequences and full measurements).  The investigator is usually the first in the field, well before the attorney takes a witness’ deposition months from the date of occurrence, therefore, it is vital for the attorney, from the outset,  to have an indication of the witness’ recall, stability and ability to withstand examination.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.

 

Alexa, Can You Dial 911 While Recording My Murder? The Electronic Ear & The Law.

policeline

Unless you are living under the proverbial rock, I’m sure by now that you’ve heard of the criminal case in Arkansas which has the police subpoenaing Amazon for the cloud-maintained audio files that may have been recorder by  the alleged murderer’s IoT gadget, the personal electronic assistant known as Echo.

Case Background (as featured in Engadget):

Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it’s not uncommon for the IoT (Internet of Things) gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates’ attorney argues that it shouldn’t. “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there’s also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Just as we saw with the quest to unlock an iPhone in the San Bernardino case, it will be interesting to see how authorities and the companies who make smart home devices work out the tension between serving customers, maintaining privacy and pursuing justice.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson gave Engadget the following statement on the matter:

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

As a refresher, Echo only captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears the wake word “Alexa.” A ring on the top of the device turns blue to give a visual indication that audio is being recorded. Those clips, or “utterances” as the company calls them, are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually or all at once. When that’s done, the “utterances” are permanently deleted. What’s more, the microphones on an Echo device can be manually turned off at any time.

I think we will all find the ever-changing digital landscape an interesting venue for the evolution of electronic law. The ramifications of the anticipated ruling may change the way we view individual privacy forever.  If we don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our own homes… where then?

We will be following this case with particular interest and will bring you updates as developments occur.

Until this case resolves, and if you own a digital personal assistant,  you might want to drop that habit of talking to yourself.  The walls literally have (electronic) ears.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

 

From Document Unshredders To Bionic Ears: Our Top Five Cool Tools For 2017

cool-tech

From tiny ear buds that allow you to isolate and perfectly hear the conversation at the table across the restaurant from you to an unshredding program that will reconstruct the ripped up evidence letter, 2017 promises to be a banner year for those in need of these type of cool tools.

Below is our selection of the top five cool tools for 2017:

1. Bionic Earbuds For People Who Can Hear: Here (Bionic Ear)

 here
At first, the idea of a hearing aid for people who can already hear just fine seems ridiculous — but if you entertain it for a second, it starts to make a bit more sense. Imagine what it would be like if, with the help of technology, you could make your already good hearing better. What if you could filter out certain noises and amplify other ones to customize what you can hear? Well, if NY-based startup Doppler Labs has its way, you might soon be able to.Doppler’s product, which it showed off this year at CES, is called Here. It’s essentially a set of earbuds that gives you the ability to selectively filter and amplify sounds from the world around you in real time, thereby allowing you to fine-tune your hearing for certain environments. If properly adjusted, this little gizmo (which its creators refer to as the world’s first “hearable tech” device) could help you do things like hear your dining partner better in a crowded restaurant, understand your friends at loud concerts without them screaming in your ear, or even eavesdrop on people from the other side of a room. 

2. Non-Invasive Alcohol Testing Sensor:  Tru Touch Technology

tru-touch

The TruTouch networked, self-calibrating, biometric alcohol sensor is designed for unattended “At the Gate” detection of the alcohol impaired before they can enter a worksite.

The technology: We humans are made up of hundreds of organic chemical compounds that are naturally present in all of us. Alcohol isn’t one of them. Using infrared light the TT2500 machine (shaped like a portable ATM) detects alcohol out of all of the other chemicals that make up the skin of the person touching the sensor and measures the exact amount of the alcohol that isn’t supposed to be there.

The Tru Touch Dermal Sensor is an awesome tool in such fields as transportation, law enforcement and community rehabilitation programs.

3. Completely Anonymous Browsing: The TOR browser.

tor-browser

The Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.

Tor Browser lets you use Tor on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux without needing to install any software. It can run off a USB flash drive, comes with a pre-configured web browser to protect your anonymity, and is self-contained (portable).

unshredder
Unshredder –  Overview

Unshredder is a simple program that unleashes the power of a desktop computer to reduce the time consumed by investigators reconstructing shredded documentary evidence.

Until now the only alternative to manual processing was to engage a third party to process the work on computers at their premises. By comparison to external processing of the evidence Unshredder reduces the turnaround time, keeps full control of the investigation in-house and there is less risk of a security risk or loss of the evidence.

 The original shreds remain unchanged from the process and the integrity of the original is captured electronically to be printed or dispatched electronically by wire or disc.

Learning to use Unshredder is straight forward for anyone with basic computer skills, the menu is used to select an action and user input when required is entered into a dialogue box. The user interface uses a menu system and common controls to provide an intuitive application that completes work with minimal input from the user.

During document reconstruction the job can be previewed allowing minor adjustments to be made until the end result meets the standard required. When satisfied with the results the job is saved to disk ready to be printed, emailed or copied for future reference. Unshredder can reconstruct a broad range of documents including strip-shred, cross-shred and torn pages rapidly achieving accurate professional

5. Temporary Disposable Email Addresses

guerrila-mail

Avoid spam, email anonymously and stay safe by using a disposable email address generated by guerrillamail.com.

We hope you will all be responsible and not get yourselves jammed up with law enforcement.  Be aware of, and stay current on the local and federal privacy laws.

Enjoy a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous 2017!

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

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