Tag: expert witnesses

Demonstrative EvidenceEvidenceExpert Witnesslegaltech

3D Printed Demonstrative Evidence: Expert Witness & Lawyer Insights

Additive manufacturing, also 3D printing, is revolutionizing the creation and development of products. According to Oxford Dictionaries online, 3D printing is defined as, “The action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.” Essentially, you’re making a computer generated three-dimensional solid object.

Are you wondering what type of solids objects one could make? Here are just a few items I’ve found from searching the Internet: bottle openers, sun glass holders, wheelchair ramps, fighter jet parts, concept cars, guns, prosthetic limbs,  jewelry, medical devices, and more.

For our purposes, some of the most interesting uses of 3D printing come in the forms of demonstrative evidence, such as crime-scene reconstruction, accident reconstruction, anatomical recreations for medical malpractice, and product recreations for in product liability cases.  I am certain we will see more uses as the technology progresses, but these seem to be the stand out items in the legal community at present.

3D Printing and the Law:

For a little background, I’ve pulled together some examples of 3D printing uses and their interaction with the law.

An article from 3Dprint.com, discusses a Canadian firm who creates 3D demonstrative models for criminal, medical malpractice, and personal injury cases. The article explains the 3D printed evidence provides a different visual and persuasion experience for jurors. It improves juror memories where verbal or written presentations may fail. A representative for the company featured in the article claims, “the credibility and memory bias problems inherent in courtroom proceedings can be overcome with visual aids.” The company further cited some of their own experiences, “such as 3D printing a broken spine from x-ray data in order to graphically reveal the severity of the injury or using a 3D, PDF image to show the degeneration of a hip in a medical malpractice case as ideal uses for their technology.”

There are other legal issues related to additive manufacturing. For example, if you have access to a 3D printer and you want a Mickey Mouse toy for your kids, what keeps you from creating your own? What if you want to create a bunch of Mickey Mouse toys and sell them to local retail establishments? According to this article from Intellectual Property Watch, you can do just that.  “3D printing technology makes it easy to copy and reproduce products – even if they are protected by a patent, trademark or copyright. It is as simple as downloading a computer-aided design (CAD) file, which can instruct the printer to reproduce a 3D object. CAD files are digital, meaning they can be shared across the internet, just like movies and music.” This article elaborates on the risks to intellectual property:

“The commercialisation of 3D printing – with an increase in small scale manufacturers – makes policing IP complex. Each printed copy of an invention represents the loss of a potential sale to its patent holder. As the manufacturer is ultimately the end user, it is harder to prove infringement. To sue, the patent owner would need to be aware that a manufacturer is using a 3D printer to reproduce their patented invention – a tall order given that 3D printers are increasingly common in households and small businesses.”

Certainly, this is a concern for those who are regularly creating patented and trademarked products.

Law enforcement is another area where 3D printing seems to receive significant news coverage. It seems police are using the technology to recreate crime scenes and even construct printed skeletal reconstructions for unidentified victims. In an article on PoliceOne, I discovered an effort by Maryland State Police to identify a homicide victim whose body was discovered after significant decomposition. Here is the process described on PoliceOne:

“By using 3D printing technology, scientists could create a replica of the skull, enabling police experts to render a facial likeness of the victim, which could lead to an identification… From a 3D printed model, experts can examine the bone structure to predict how facial muscles and skin would lay on the skull… With a rendering of the victim’s facial likeness, investigators hope for someone to come forward and identify the body.”

In an article from the National Post, I found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are using 3D printing technology to reconstruct automobile accidents. The article which came out early this year just after the RCMP purchased their first 3D printer explained, “The printer would be used by the B.C. RCMP’s integrated collision analysis and reconstruction service (ICARS), which specializes in forensic reconstruction of collisions that cause serious injury or death. It would be used in conjunction with the unit’s existing 3D scanning technology, which it uses to create digital images of accidents.”

The above descriptions of 3D printing in the legal community are just a few examples. I wanted to give you a taste of the different areas of law being impacted by 3D printing.

Now, how about we get some input from an expert witness using the technology? Someone with experience related to 3D printed demonstrative evidence.

Marc Glickstein, MD, FACR – Medical Demonstrative Evidence Expert Witness

Dr. Marc Glickstein, is a partner in a large private practice radiology group, on the senior medical staff of 8 area hospitals, and an assistant clinical professor of Radiology at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. With his medical background and experience in photography, Dr. Glickstein specializes in providing medical demonstrative evidence to attorneys in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. You can learn more about Dr. Glickstein by visiting his website: medivence.com.

I posed several questions to Dr. Glickstein. Even with all of his experience, he has only used 3D printed evidence in two trials. This is not surprising given how few cases make it to trial these days. Nevertheless, the technology is impressive and is likely to be used more frequently in the future. Here are the questions and answers:

Nick: How long have you been working with 3D printed evidence?

Dr. Glickstein: 3 years.

Nick: What are the most common types of 3D printed evidence that you see in litigation?

Dr. Glickstein: 3D is best for depicting fractures although it can also be used to show tumors, birth defects, post operative complications (generally orthopedic).

Nick: Do you find 3D models to be more compelling evidence than other demonstrations?

Dr. Glickstein: Yes, because they can be viewed in real-time and the jurors can actually hold the model in their hand and have tactile as well as visual input which makes the experience more real and memorable.  It can also be more visually compelling to see the abnormality in 3 dimensions.

Nick: What types of 3D printed evidence have you used to assist in your expert analysis?

Dr. Glickstein: It has been limited to cases of bone fracture at this point but there is no reason why other types of modeling such as tumor modeling could not be used.

Nick: Can you share any examples of 3D printed demonstrations that were critical to the outcome of a case?

Dr. Glickstein: The photos I gave you (see below) were used to illustrate the severe nature of the spinal vertebral fracture and clearly showed the jury that there was significant spinal compression.  They clearly understood this but the verdict went to the opposing side for other reasons, too detailed and arcane to present here.

spinal-fracture-1.JPG

spinal-fracture-2.JPG

Nick: In my mind, I’m thinking 3D printed models are going to be incredibly expensive. Can you give us an idea of costs for 3D printed evidence?

Dr. Glickstein: 3D is expensive and that is the main hurdle. Many attorneys do not appreciate the compelling nature of such modeling and the costs can be dissuasive. The materials alone can run $1-2000 and that does not take into account the time needed to work out the display. This also does not factor in the costs of the 3D printers which are usually rented on a per click basis by a company that does the modeling, and high quality 3D printers can cost over $100k. A model can cost between $2500-4000 for the final product.

Nick: As an example, how long would it take to create a 3D printed model of a human heart?

Dr. Glickstein: It really does not matter whether one is making a model of a fracture or the heart…the time is similar and in general it should take a couple of weeks for me to create a model from time of receipt of the images to delivery of the finished product.

Nick: Anything else you think the legal community should know about 3D printed evidence that I have not asked…

Dr. Glickstein: 3D modeling quality is dependent on the parameters used in the original imaging, which must be of high enough resolution to enable high quality reconstructions in 3D, just as is the case in 2D or digital 3D reconstructions.  If a study is not of high enough resolution, it is not going to enable one to generate an acceptable rendition.  A radiologist can make that determination upon viewing the study itself.

There you have it. Direct from the expert who has used 3D models in litigation. The costs dissuade consistent use of this demonstrative evidence. However, this will not always be the case. As the technology progresses, costs will decrease, making 3D models will be less cost prohibitive. With the potential to show a jury the extent of an injury and allow them to hold a perfectly scaled replica, I predict the demonstrative models will be commonplace.

For greater insight on the future of this evidence, I reached out to one of the most tech savvy lawyers I know.

Morris Lilienthal, Esq. – Huntsville Alabama Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Attorney

Morris Lilienthal is a civil trial lawyer with more than 14 years of experience in wrongful death, personal injury, and product liability matters. He practices in Huntsville, Alabama with Martinson & Beason, PC. Morris is also the host of the TheMoShow, where he interviews local and statewide leaders, sharing stories of their business, public, and charitable endeavors. Prior to law school, he attended Maryville College in Tennessee where he played offensive tackle on the football team. The same competitive nature that helped Morris excel on the field helps him in his representation of injury victims today.

I know a lot of lawyers and I reached out to a bunch of them. It may be no surprise that none of them have yet used 3D printed demonstrative evidence in trial. Although, most of them knew of lawyers who had. This area of demonstrative evidence is growing and we’re sure to see it in the future. I asked Morris some questions about the potential use of 3D printed models at trial. Here they are:

Nick: Have you used 3D printed demonstrative evidence in litigation?

Morris: I have not used 3D printed models yet.

Nick: Would you find it helpful to present a 3D model to jurors to show the extent of an injury?

Morris: Yes, I think a 3D model would be very helpful in trial.  Anytime you put the jury in a position where they can visualize what’s occurred the case goes from just something that’s abstract to real life.  The jury gets a real understanding of what injury the plaintiff suffered and can then understand how the injury may impact them. As the saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words.

Nick: Do you think it would be good for jurors to be able to hold and analyze an exact replica of an injury (skeletal damage, damaged organ, traumatic brain injury)?

Morris: Yes.  Again it allows the jury to understand how the accident at issue caused the injury and how the injury impacts the plaintiff.

Nick: Besides current costs, is there a reason you might avoid using 3D printed demonstrative evidence?

Morris: Authentication by the doctor.  Before the model is able to be introduced into evidence you will have to get the doctor to validate its a true representation of the plaintiff’s injury.  This, can be done by sending the doctor the model prior to his/her testimony for authentication. However if the model is not accurate it will have to be made.

Nick: Are there any other items you think lawyers should take into consideration before using 3D printed evidence?

Morris: Just make sure the jury understands this is the exact injury the plaintiff suffered and that it’s not a model.

As this evidence is more commonly used, we will bring you more insights and suggestions from the experts and lawyers using the evidence at trial. Keep an eye out for the 3D printed demonstrative models. If they have not yet, they will be coming to a courtroom near you!

 

 

 

Expert WitnessFood Safety

Pre-Cut Melon Salmonella Outbreak: Expert Witness Guidance to Avoid Infection

Certain parts of the United States were graced with a Salmonella outbreak over the weekend. We see these happen a couple of times a year (it probably happens more frequently than that, but a few outbreaks make the national news).

Over the last weekend, several states experienced the most recent outbreak. In fact, I didn’t read about it until Monday. Thanks to this article on Yahoo News, I learned the “U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday urged residents of eight U.S. states to check for recalled pre-cut melon that is linked to an outbreak of Salmonella.”

Pre-cut melon? Yes! Pre-cut melon (i.e. watermelon, cantaloupe, honey-dew, etc.). No deaths have been reported as of this writing. However, “The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control are investigating an outbreak linked to 60 illnesses and at least 31 hospitalizations in five states,” according to Yahoo News. The company involved in the outbreak, Caito Foods, LLC, has recalled the suspected products. The products were distributed through eight states in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. Over half of the reported Salmonella cases were located in Michigan.

Summer is here, melons are ripe, and pre-cut fruit snacks are heavily peddled at our local grocers and local barbecues. I decided to reach out to one of our food safety experts for some guidance on how to avoid Salmonella poisoning.

Jeff Nelken – Food Safety, Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points Expert Witness:

Jeff Nelken, MA is a a food safety / HACCP expert witness with 40 years experience in the hospitality industry. He specializes in food safety, accident prevention, inspections, audits, and training. Mr. Nelken is a certified trainer and provider with the Los Angeles Health Department who has worked with CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC, INSIDE EDITION, and Dateline MSNBC’s investigation team, as well as restaurants, casinos, schools, supermarkets, and food manufacturers to provide food safety. You can learn more about his expertise at: foodsafetycoach.com.

Nick: What is Salmonella?

Mr. Nelken: Salmonella is the second most common intestinal infection in the United States. More than 7,000 cases of Salmonella were confirmed in 2009; however the majority of cases go unreported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 1 million people in the U.S. contract Salmonella each year, and that an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and almost 400 deaths occur from Salmonella poisoning, according to a 2011 report.

Nick: How does a Salmonella infection occur?

Mr. Nelken: Salmonella infection usually occurs when a person eats food contaminated with the feces of animals or humans carrying the bacteria.  Salmonella outbreaks are commonly associated with inadequately cooked: eggs, meat and poultry, but these bacteria can also contaminate other foods such as fruits and vegetables. Foods that are most likely to contain Salmonella include raw or undercooked eggs, raw milk, contaminated water, and raw or undercooked meats. and unpasteurized milk.

Nick: How long does it take for Salmonella poisoning to arise?

Mr. Nelken: On set – 12-72 hours.

Nick: What safety precautions can be taken by food preparers?

Mr. Nelken: Clean hands before preparing foods. Sanitize work surfaces. Keep animals (pets) off of food prep surfaces. Keep cut melons at 41F at all times.

Nick: Who is most likely to be impacted by Salmonella poisoning?

Mr. Nelken: Salmonella poisonings are more likely to occur among young children and people age 65 or older.

Nick: What are possible complications of Salmonella poisoning?

Mr. Nelken: Possible complications include:

  • Reactive arthritis: This is thought to occur in 2 to 15 percent of Salmonella patients. Symptoms include inflammation of the joints, eyes, or reproductive or urinary organs. On average, symptoms appear 18 days after infection.
  • Focal infection: A focal infection occurs when Salmonella bacteria takes root in body tissue and causes illnesses such as arthritis or endocartitis. It is caused by typhoidal Salmonella only in cross contamination.

Nick: Is dirty equipment usually to blame for an outbreak in pre-packaged foods?

Mr. Nelken: Not only equipment, but the environment, like dust in a shed or birds flying around.

There you have it folks. Make sure to keep your pre-cut melon at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Keep your food preparation areas clean and sanitized. Also, it is probably best if you do not let your animals walk on your kitchen counter tops.

If you have children or you are 65 years of age or older, make sure to contact your doctor if you are having intestinal issues. Do not try to tough it out!

Criminal JusticeEvidenceExpert Witness

Golden State Killer, Part 3: Defense Concerns about Tainted Memories

“Few rights are more important than a right to a fair trial.” According to this article, in The Mercury News, these words were spoken in court last week by attorney David Lynch, defense counsel for James Joseph DeAngelo, the alleged Golden State Killer. Mr Lynch is right. His words are of the utmost importance. So important, in fact, we spend significant time in law school learning criminal justice and rights of the accused. As I recall, there were at least two courses dedicated to the subject entirely: Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. Other courses are substantially related to the topic, i.e., Evidence and Constitutional Law.

Even for the worst criminals accused of the most heinous crimes, we have to offer a fair trial. It should remain a priority for a civil society. I, for one, would rather a guilty person go free than an innocent person be imprisoned. I feel the readers pulling away from me at this point. You may be asking, “How can you say that about the Golden State Killer? Have you read about his crimes?” Yes, I have, and I understand the emotions tied to convicting him. In fact, if Mr. DeAngelo has committed the crimes he’s accused of, I want him convicted. However, I want him to have a fair trial and I expect the prosecution to prove their case. That’s the law and it should be followed. If proper procedures are followed, it also avoids the case being overturned on appeal.

For our purposes, David Lynch provided an even more interesting statement in court last week. Mr. Lynch said, “When you have an old memory, it can be tainted if you get new information.” The Mercury News elaborated on his concern:

“Lynch estimated 16,000 articles were written about the Golden State Killer online, including more than 100 by the local Sacramento newspaper within two weeks of DeAngelo’s arrest. He said releasing information could affect witnesses’ memories and hurt the jury selection process.”

Based on my experience working with expert witnesses, I know there are immense concerns about matters such as eyewitness identification and witness memory. I mention the two together because memory can impact identification.

In the Golden State Killer matter, we have no publicly available information of an eyewitness identification (no reporting about photo identification or line-ups). Nevertheless, we do have many eyewitnesses to the crimes (including over 40 rape victims). As such, Mr. Lynch is probably concerned about other memories associated with the crimes. Such as physical attributes, physical description, verbal interactions, time of day, weather, residential layout, and more. Defense counsel doesn’t want new information released to the potential jury pool, victims, and other witnesses that might create false memories about which they may later testify.

Allyson Kacmarski – Criminal Defense Lawyer – Wilkes Barre, PA

To help our readers understand the concerns of David Lynch, I thought it was important to get some further input on memory concerns from a practicing defense attorney, so I reached out to a friend who practices criminal defense in Pennsylvania.

Allyson L. Kacmarski is a former public defender and former Assistant District Attorney who is now in private practice in Wilkes Barre, PA. Her firm is a full-service criminal defense and family law office serving clients in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, and throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. Allyson does some spectacular work connecting and educating clients via her Instagram account. You can learn more about her practice by visiting attorneyallyson.com.

I posed some questions to Allyson and she provided some very detailed answers regarding her concerns about witness memories.

Nick: From a criminal defense perspective, what concerns would you have about information impacting witness memories?

Ms. Kacmarski: I like to believe that a witness’ memory is best right after the crime occurs. Think about this in your own life. When you tell a friend a story, the story has more details when you share this story within hours or days of the incident occurring, rather than months or years. Allowing an alleged victim or witness to read newspaper articles or portions of police reports can definitely impact the way a person recalls the incident. It’s always a cause for concern when a witness testifies at trial to details that were not contained in the original statement to the police. The question becomes, where did the witness get this “new” information from? Was it the newspaper? Maybe it was during witness prep with the police who are now providing information to the witness by asking questions that this witness did not know the answer to originally. Most people want to help the police and “catch the killer,” so there is definitely an innate pressure to agree with the police when they asked leading questions such as, “isn’t this the gun that the suspect had?” A person may say, “Oh, yes” even if he/she doesn’t remember because he/she doesn’t want to make the police mad or blow the case and let the killer go free. When you hear something enough, anyone can start to believe it is real and true, even if it’s not.

Nick: Does the defense attorney for the Golden State Killer have a valid concern about “tainted” memories?

Ms. Kacmarski: Yes, but this concern applies to any criminal case, not just the Golden State Killer. The pressure is always on in any case for a witness to testify successfully to facts that will show the Defendant is guilty of the crime as charged. For example, in criminal cases involving the testimony of a child, the court may have a taint hearing to determine if the child’s memory has been compromised by outside influences, such as a parent flat-out telling the child what to say or maybe it’s bad questioning or suggestive questioning by an interviewer that affects the child’s memory. The point is, whether it’s reading details in a newspaper article, talking to the police about the case during an interview, or even a witness discussing the incident with family or friends, taint could always occur. Providing a witness with information and details that he/she did not initially disclose to the police, can always lead to a defense attorney questioning how accurate the witness’ memory truly is.

Nick: In your experience, are witness memories reliable?

Ms. Kacmarski: Maybe yes… Maybe no. For me, reliability can be influenced by outside factors. For example, a witness may distinctly remember all the details of an event because it was unique or odd or something stood out that he/she would never forget. Maybe it’s something about the way a person spoke, or looked, or acted or dressed that made the incident not only memorable, but ingrained in the witness’ brain. I also think the length of time a witness interacts with a person can affect the memory. If the interaction is short, say seconds or minutes, how many details will a witness be able to recall when he/she has very little time to observe the other person. Speaking of interaction, things like a gun being present and used during an incident can greatly impact the reliability of a witness’ memory. Often times, the witness is so focused on the gun, he/she may not remember anything else about the incident.

Nick: With no current reports of eyewitness identification, what types of memories might defense counsel be concerned about tainting? (i.e. times, dates, physical attributes of the suspect, weather, physical layouts of a residence).

Ms. Kacmarski: My biggest concern as to taint would be the physical appearance of the suspect. Without someone describing the height/weight, skin color and complexion, even hair color, the identity of the suspect is unknown. In the Golden State Killer, the news has reported it was the DNA that led to the arrest. Once he was arrested, the Golden State Killer has been all over the news. It is very easy for a witness to see this guy in the news and say, “yes, that is him, I remember that face.” If the original statement fails to detail the suspect’s face or some outstanding facial characteristic, the concern is now the news has tainted the identification of this witness.

Nick: With a case of this magnitude (crimes across the state) would you be worried about the heavy press coverage impacting witness memories?

Ms. Kacmarski: Heavy press coverage can always impact a case. First, let me just say this, and no offense to the news community. But what you read in the newspaper is not always what really took place. I can say from my own personal experience because I have read articles “quoting” statements I made during a trial and guess what … I didn’t say it or it was taken completely out of context. The point is, when people read something in the newspaper he/she thinks it is 100% true. Since we can’t stop a witness from reading the newspaper, or should I say searching the internet, we can’t control how reading a statement from the police, containing information from various witnesses all combined, as well as details about evidence collected can cause the memory of a witness to “change.” And let’s just say, seeing the picture of a person in handcuffs, in prison garb, being escorted by the police, can do a lot to a person’s memory as to who he/she believes the “killer” is. Seeing a person’s face and image enough times, when he/she is in police custody, can taint the person’s memory as to physical appearance and details, especially if this takes place prior to the police showing the witness a photo line-up.

Nick: Can you provide any examples from your own practice about faulty witness memories?

Ms. Kacmarski: Examples of faulty witness memories:

  • In an attempted homicide case, a victim, who was shot in the back of the head, testified that he/she remembered what the gun looked like and then he/she described the gun to the jury. I asked the victim, “How do you know what the gun looked like, if you were lying face down on the ground?” The victim said, “Because the police told me about the gun.” I immediately asked “what?” The victim said “he/she couldn’t remember details of the incident, specifically the gun, so he/she asked the police and the police told him/her.”
  • Right after a crime happened, the police arrive and within approximately 2 hours of the crime occurring, the police interview a witness who says, “I saw a man walking down the street with a tan coat and a gun.” Approximately 11 months later, after TV and newspaper articles, the witness tells the police when he/she is served with a subpoena for trial, “Oh yeah, that guy I saw, he is my neighbor and we have talked before this.” Fast-forward to trial, the witness says, his/her next door neighbor told him/her that “the guy lives across the street” and by the way, there was no talking, just a “Hi.”

Nick: Is there any other information you would like to provide about witness memories in regards to criminal defense matters?

Ms. Kacmarski: When looking at a witness’s memory of an incident, I like to look at all the surrounding factors that can impact the memory.  In my opinion, things like the lighting, the time of day, was there a weapon involved, was the person under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the incident, all count and can impact how a witness remembers an event.  How about this: Does a person wear contacts or glasses and did he/she have them on during the incident? Looking at these factors, just to name a few, are key and can ultimately allow the defense to pick apart a witness’ statement show whether there has been taint.

Now that we know a little more about the concerns of defense counsel when dealing with witness memories, let’s hear from an expert about the reliability of such memories!

 

What do the experts have to say?

Now that you know the concerns of defense counsel in the Golden State Killer case, you may be wondering about the science behind tainted memories. If so, you’ll have to wait for another post on the subject in the near future. One of our members, a forensic psychology expert witness, is busy answering a litany of questions on the topic. As a primer, you may wish to read these articles on the related topic of faulty eyewitness identification.

 

Audio ForensicsExpert Witnesslegaltech

Laurel v. Yanny: An Audio Forensics Expert Witness Scientifically Settles the Dispute

On Tuesday of this week, the Internet erupted in a dispute over an audio recording of a word. Or, maybe two words. Nobody knows because nobody can agree. I know what you’re thinking, “We’re so glad Nick decided to write about a viral Internet sensation that we’re already tired of hearing about.” I feel your sarcasm and I reject it. The confusion over the word got me thinking we may be unable to trust our ears. If we cannot trust our hearing, what impact might that have on recorded evidence presented at trial? Or, in a less formal matter (disagreements with a loved one)?

CLICK HEAR FOR THE RECORDING

The New York Times did a good job of addressing the Laurel v. Yanny dispute in this article. They created a tool that allowed readers to change the frequency of the audio recording. Move the arrow all the way to the left and your clearly hear the word “Laurel.” Move it all the way to the right and you hear “Yanny.” Regardless of where the arrow was stationed, disagreement exists.

Don’t worry, I did some research for this article. Using a non-scientific methodology, which is definitely NOT generally accepted in the audio forensics community, I came to some totally unreliable conclusions. Asking friends, family, and coworkers what they heard on the recording, I came to some interesting conclusions. More women heard Yanny and more men heard Laurel. I’m certain the margin of error is enormous and I can’t recall if I asked an even number of men and women. It also appears to be some different interpretations based on age. Then of course, some people heard different words, at different times, on different devices. This really caused problems for my non-scientific research. I heard Laurel one day on one device and Yanny another day on another device.

Naturally, all of this made me wonder how we can trust our hearing? How is evidence reliable? What about witness testimony about what was heard? Of course, I also wondered if science could settle the dispute?

Is testimony about what was heard as unreliable as eyewitness identification testimony?

Eyewitness identification used to be considered incredibly strong evidence. In fact, in some US jurisdictions, it is still compelling evidence. From my experience working with expert witnesses and following the science with some interest for the last eight years, I can tell you that eyewitness identification evidence is terribly unreliable. It is frightening how often it is wrong. There are so many variables which can impact the judgement, perceptions, and memories of an eyewitness, that I would not trust it (without some strong corroborating evidence).

So, I wonder if the hearing of an eyewitness is similarly compromised? How do I know if a witness heard three or five gun shots? How do we know the witness heard one collision or two? What about business negotiations? Are we certain we’re all hearing the same thing and agreeing to the same terms being memorialized in the contract?

Typically, I am more inclined to believe recorded evidence because I am biased against eyewitness testimony from the scientific studies I’ve read. Or, should I say, I was more inclined to believe recorded evidence.

After the Laurel/Yanny dispute, I wondered if recorded audio evidence is reliable? If I can hear one thing and others hear something totally different, how can we rely on a recording? For insights on this phenomena, I’ve reached out to an audio forensics expert.

Herbert Joe – Forensic Audio Video Analysis Expert Witness

Herbert Joe is a highly qualified and board certified forensic audio and video examiner. He has three science degrees and two law degrees. He and his partner have been retained in thousands of criminal, civil, and administrative cases throughout the US and internationally. Mr. Joe has worked on many high-profile matters including the Branch Davidian case, State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman; the Associated Press (Osama bin Laden); consultations with Dr. Phil (Manti Teo), CSI: Miami, TMZ (Michael Jackson), the Wall Street Journal, and People Magazine (Mel Gibson). You can learn more about Mr. Joe by visiting his website: forensicscenter.com.

As I normally do for blogs, I posed several questions to Mr. Joe. Please see my questions and his answers below:

Nick: Some listeners hear Laurel and others hear Yanny. Is this a result of the recording or the listener’s hearing?

Mr. Joe: What one hears has a large subjective component, and even then the same listener may hear it differently over time, depending on a host dynamic factors. For examples, what one perceives to hear may depend largely on the mood or emotive state of that person at that time; what one perceives to hear may depend largely on what s/he is expecting or anticipating to hear; what one perceives to hear may depend largely on one’s hearing ability. Clearly, there are many other factors to determine and affect what one hears, what one interprets and what one recalls, all of which may change over time for that person, and may be very different from what another person perceives to hear.

This only scratches the surface of the area of psychoacoustics, speech production and speech perception.

Nick: Is there a correct answer to Laurel or Yanny?

Mr. Joe: Hate to sound like an attorney – as I am one – but the answer to that question depends, depends on how you phrase that question. Is there a correct answer to what one hears? Yes, it’s what one perceives. But if one clearly enunciates either name/word, then there is an objectively correct answer, namely (sorry for the pun), the word that was spoken or played back – regardless of how it was heard, if at all, by the listener(s).

Consider this analogy with light. We know that our eyes are sensitive to light within the (narrow) visible light spectrum, a small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. So let’s take a red apple. Sunlight or white light is made up of all the different color lights that we know of, as we learned in school – ROY G BIZ, red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo and violet. But that apple is red, whether we perceive it that way or not. It’s red because the skin of that apple absorbs all the colors of the incoming white light except red, which is reflected and that’s why we see red. (If we shine a pure red light on that apple and no other light is present in a closed room, then that apple will not appear because all the red light is absorbed, and since there is no other light frequency to reflect, then there is no light to perceive, i.e., it appears black.

Likewise, sound is merely vibrations of air that propagates from the source (through the air or another medium) and can be heard when they reach a person’s or animal’s ear. That’s the objective part – the frequencies at whatever intensities at any given moment. It’s there whether we can appreciate them or not.

Nick: Is there a way to determine the correct answer?

Mr. Joe: There is a correct answer if the question is whether there are linguistic and acoustic differences between the spoken words “Laurel” or “Yanny.” See answer to question #5, below.

Nick: If listeners are hearing different words, how can recorded evidence be trusted?

Mr. Joe: For the past 31 years, my partner and I have been forensically analyzing audio, acoustic, voice and video evidence in state and Federal courts, in civil, criminal and administrative cases throughout the U.S., as well as many foreign countries. Recorded evidence must be subjected to admissibility standards to be admitted, and the subject to analyses and opinions that go to the weight of the evidence. If the proponent of the audio (or acoustic, voice or video) evidence can provide facts sufficient to support a reasonable jury determination that the recording is an accurate reproduction of the event that it purports to record. Where we often get retained is to show and testify, objectively and with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that the recording has been falsified or tampered with in one way or another to render the recording untrustworthy as a whole. Now if the case comes down to an interpretation or dispute of what was said in some recording, we can enhance (digital signal processing) the passage(s) of interest, allow the jurors to hear the enhanced audio (with good quality headphones), provide a reasonably accurate transcript and provide expert testimony thereof. However, the other side can also have their transcript version of the recording, and it is up to the jury to ultimately decide what the recorded evidence says or not say.

Nick: If the Laurel/Yanny recording was presented as evidence at trial, what analysis would you use to prove one word or the other?

Mr. Joe: We had a case in which the entire felony indictment centered on a single, mono-syllabic word. The Government contended that the Defendant said “Shoot the [expletive]!” The Defendant claimed that he said “Shoot me, [expletive]!” The Government contended the former exclamation underscored intent and contentment that an officer was killed. The defense contended that the latter showed his remorse. So, we had to objectively differentiate between the /th/ sound and the /m/ sound with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty – regardless of what perceives to hear. The /th/ sound is known as a fricative because the tip of the tongue is placed just behind the two front (central) incisors to create friction in producing the /th/ sound. The /m/ sound is known as a nasal sound since air bypasses the oral cavity because the lips are closed (and the soft palate drops) and thus passes out through the nasal passages. After enhancing the audio evidence, spectral analyses revealed the 2nd word had higher frequency energy (“the”, as opposed to lower frequency energy, which would indicate the nasal sound /m/); so, that 2nd word was “me” and not “the.” The case was dismissed upon our testimony.

Likewise, phonetically, Laurel begins with the letter “L,” whereas Yanny begins with the letter “Y.” Although the letter “Y” (a/k/a a semivowel) can represent a vowel or a consonant, it is used as a consonant in “Yanny.” Therefore, on the one hand, there are common phonetic features of the consonants “L” and “Y,” e.g., they are both voiced consonants produced by directing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm and actively narrowing the vocal tract upon articulation. In making either of these sounds, air only leaves through the mouth. On the other hand, there is a substantial phonetic difference between these 2 letters. The letter “L” is a “lateral” consonant, as it is made by directing the airstream around the sides of the tongue upon articulation; the letter “Y” is a “central” consonant, because it is made by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue upon articulation.

One can “see” this substantial difference in the raw waveform, as well as the same waveform viewed as a 3-dimensional spectrogram. Below is the waveform of my enunciating “Laurel,” and then “Yanny.” Below that is a spectrogram of the exact same recording. And one certainly should be able to hear and perceive the difference if the sound source is accurate in the enunciation of each.

laurel-yanny-graph-1.PNG

laurel-yanny-graph-2.PNG

Nick: The Laurel/Yanny recording is of a robotic voice. Are human voices less susceptible to this type of misinterpretation?

Mr. Joe: First, I’m not sure if I agree with the premise. Human voices naturally have varying degrees of emotions manifested by simultaneous changes in pitch, resonance, fluency, intonation, prosody and duration of the words and speech segments. In contrast, computer-generated, synthetic or robotic speech utilizes an algorithm that translates orthographic strings of letters into the robotic voice; however, synthetic voice is audibly missing emotive components, like the natural variations in pitch, level, and intonation.

But it’s not so much misinterpretation, as it is how the brain perceives the difference: human speech requires little effort by our auditory cortex when perceived; however, synthetic or robotic speech requires more effort when listened to. Without the emotive components in human speech, robotic speech has fewer cues to help our brains with identifying phonemes.

Nick: Do different interpretations of the Laurel/Yanny recording cast doubt on what a witness claims to have heard (ex. witness to a crime, collision, conversation)?

Mr. Joe: This question opens up a whole different Pandora’s Box. Earwitness identification, recall and the like has little to do with synthesized voices (unless of course the subject matter has to do with a synthesized voice). What one hears and perceives at the time of some acoustic event and recalls at a later time is subject to so many factors, e.g., one’s mental state at the time, how traumatic that acoustic event is, etc.

We had a case in which the reliability or trustworthiness of a witness recalling an auditory event years later was at issue. There are generally accepted academic, clinical and forensic studies in the areas of the reliability of earwitness identification. For examples, it is well-established that there is a temporal decay of memory for voices. In one study, after 2 weeks of hearing one’s voice but never seeing that person, reliability is only 68% correct, 35% correct after 3 months and only 13% correct after 5 months (less than a chance guess). The majority of forensically relevant encounters with unknown voices may well occur before the listener forms an intent to memorize.

Nick: We have no context for the Laurel/Yanny recording. Simply two words. Does context play a role in the analysis of a disputed recording? For example, a recording of a business agreement or a family law dispute.

Mr. Joe: Absolutely! Let’s take an example of the phrase “I’m going to kill you.” If that phrase appeared in a transcript with no other context, then 10 different readers may have ten different interpretations (20 if the readers are attorneys, but I digress). If that phrase was spoken in no other context and heard by someone, the emotionality and therefore the intent of that phrase alone may be revealed. If said sarcastically and sassily, then one would likely interpret that phrase without any real concerns. On the other hand, if that phrase was spoken and heard with sheer anger, then one would likely interpret that phrase with much concerns. If that phrase was in the broader context of 2 boxers, for example, being interviewed the night before their championship fight, then the meaning of that phrase is materially different than the same phrase spoken in context of 2 people viciously fighting. Clearly, one can see the context of a word or phrase can make all the difference in what was objectively meant, especially in contrast to a naked phrase with no context and completely subject to interpretation.

And another relevant issue here is the concept of top-down thinking in the context of speech perception. One can unintentionally or purposefully make someone subconsciously biased as to what s/he “should” hear in an anticipated audio recording; likewise, one’s own life experiences color what you think you hear or should hear. Stated another way, it may be equally remarkable if a study using the same “Laurel/Yanny” audio clip, the listener was asked what they hear without mentioning either or any name or word.

By the way, for the applicable analyses as described above, and given my 31 years of experience in critical listening of audio and acoustic evidence, and without any bias or top down thinking, it is clear to me that the word from the May 16, 2018 NYTimes article that the word generated is “Laurel.”


 

There you have it, folks! Laurel is the word that has baffled the Internet for the last three days. I want to extend a huge thank you to Herbert Joe of Yonovitz & Joe, LLP, for his exquisite scientific analysis of the Laurel/Yanny audio clip. What mystery will the Internet provide next? Only time will tell. When there is a mystery to solve, you can get your forensic scientific answers on this blog! Naturally, you’ll get some non-scientific analysis from yours truly.

 

 

Criminal LawExpert WitnessForensic Psychiatry

Golden State Killer, Part 2: Forensic Psychiatry and the Rapist and Serial Killer

As readers of Part 1 are aware, I’m following this case closely due to the connection to our local community. If you are anything like me, you wonder how someone could allegedly commit so many heinous crimes? Then, after a decade of committing dozens of rapes and multiple murders, the suspect ends his reign of terror (at least as far as we know).

What We Know:

From 1976 to 1986, a violent criminal struck fear throughout the State of California. Twelve murders, 45 or more rapes, and more than 100 hundred residential burglaries are attributed to one man. Authorities have indicated the suspect was meticulous in the planning of his crimes, which started as burglaries and escalated into violent offenses.

The crime spree spanned Northern and Southern California, including Sacramento, San Joaquin, Orange, Ventura, and Contra Costa Counties. The suspect was known by many names, such as Visalia Ransacker, Diamond Knot Killer, Original Night Stalker, East Area Rapist, and more recently the Golden State Killer. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that DNA evidence connected the dots of all the crimes and detectives realized the crimes were committed by the same individual.

An arrest was made in late April. After using an innovative investigative technique (submitting a DNA profile to a free online ancestry database), detectives identified James Joseph DeAngelo, Jr., a former police officer and mechanic living in Citrus Heights, California.

What Makes Someone Commit Such Crimes?

Violent crimes are difficult for most of us to understand. Certainly we’ve all had emotional moments that could have resulted in a terrible decision had we lost self-control or been otherwise unbalanced. Although I don’t condone violence, I’ll admit reading about crimes where the violent result was understandable. Not acceptable, but understandable. For example, a parent acting violently towards someone who harmed his or her child is the type of violent behavior I can understand.

How do we reconcile vengeful, “loss of control,” or “heat of passion,” violence with violence that seems to be done for pleasure? Why does an offender experience joy from inflicting pain and fear upon a victim? What causes a person to lead a life of rape and murder?

There are so many questions on this topic. Does a lack of understanding make us more fearful? Does the human condition require a rational explanation for irrational acts we cannot fathom?

A little information before we continue:

For this portion of our series on the Golden State Killer, I sought input from a forensic psychiatry expert witness. Part 3 of this series will include input from one or more forensic psychologists.

It is important for readers to understand the difference between psychiatry and psychology. Allow me to differentiate between the two. For any psychologists and psychiatrists reading this post, I apologize for the very simplified descriptions of your professions, but we’ve had lawyers contact us looking for an expert, unaware of the distinction.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD, DO) capable of prescribing medications to address mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They generally focus on diagnosis and treatment. A psychologist is not a medical doctor. Psychology-based doctoral degrees are usually Ph.D or Psy.D. They generally are unable to prescribe medication and focus more on helping patients to effectively cope with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders via psychotherapy (non-medical treatment). Again, this is an oversimplification of two highly complex professions.

Today, we will be addressing the Golden State Killer with some input from Experts.com member and forensic psychiatry expert, Dr. Stephen M. Raffle.

Stephen M. Raffle, MD – Forensic Psychiatry Expert Witness:

Dr. Stephen Raffle is double board-certified in Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry. He has over 40 years of experience as a clinical and forensic psychiatrist offering his expert opinion in federal and state jurisdictions nationwide. Dr. Raffle has conducted over 5,000 psychiatric assessments in his career and was a professor of psychiatry at UCSF Medical Center for 20 years. You can learn more about Dr. Raffle by visiting his website: psychiatristexpertwitness.com.

Nick: Are there common psychological attributes among serial killers?

Dr. Raffle: A common feature is a lack of empathy with victims. Most serial killers ​(with few exceptions) understand they are committing a crime because they take care not to be caught. Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder commonly are present. Sadomasochism is also a common feature. Depending on the shared characteristics of the victims, the serial killer may have problems with impotence, paranoia, or sexual perversions which cannot otherwise be satisfied. Paranoid Schizophrenia is a common psychiatric disorder but not universal. A diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, in and of itself, does not necessarily justify a finding of insanity, because “insanity” is a legal construct, not a psychiatric diagnosis.

Nick: If so, what types of psychological attributes are common among serial killers?

Dr. Raffle: Refer to my response in No. 1 above. In addition, the psychiatric disorders, as diagnostic entities, may include:  ​Sadomasochistic Personality Disorder, Necrophilia, Paranoid Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or other psychotic disorders.

Nick: Does a serial rapist or serial killer experience joy or pleasure from tormenting and harming their victims?

Dr. Raffle: Yes.

Nick: If so, why is it they experience joy or pleasure from inflicting pain or committing murder?

Dr. Raffle: In each instance, the torture is combined with sexual arousal (which is commonly not acknowledged by the perpetrator), leading to an emotional discharge, often overtly sexual in nature​ upon the death of the victim. Following the murder, serial killers have recurrent fantasies about various aspects of the ritual associated with the killing, which brings satisfaction. Over time, the recurrent fantasies become progressively less satisfying, (i.e., “old news”) resulting in a need for new fantasy material. Hence, the serial nature of the murders.

Nick: Can forensic psychiatry explain how one becomes a serial killer? Or, what causes one to become a serial killer?

Dr. Raffle: The prediction of violence in a specific individual is difficult, given the extremely rare occurrence of serial killers. Certain risk factors are identifiable for predisposing an individual to violence; however, the constellation of symptoms, behaviors, life experiences and genetic makeup makes it impossible to identify serial killers before the fact or even to explain how one “becomes a serial killer.” That said, a propensity toward violence most commonly occurs in individuals who have a prior history of violence, premeditated violence, paranoia, a strong impulse for revenge, drug and/or alcohol abuse, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, the experience of repeated childhood sexual abuse and/or physical abuse, obsessional thinking, unresolved gender identity issues, sadomasochism, and conflicts about dominance/submission. The causes to become a serial killer commonly include prior sexual fantasies, coupled with torture ending in murder. The shift from fantasy to reality may occur following a personal crisis and need for greater satisfaction than is provided by the fantasy. Once the taboo of murder is breached, the serial killer is freer to convert subsequent emotional needs into murderous actions. Most serial killers have a ritualistic aspect to their killing which reflects their unconscious needs and conflicts, such as killing prostitutes, homosexuals, homeless people, or other such categories. The commonality of the victims usually is based on childhood experiences, parental attitudes, and psychosexual conflicts.

Nick: Are there common childhood development (characteristics or circumstances) issues among serial killers?

Dr. Raffle: The most common childhood development characteristics and circumstances include parental neglect, inconsistent parental behaviors, resulting in excessive, unpredictable punishment​ unrelated to wrongdoing, physical or sexual abuse by a parent or close relative, extreme religious beliefs, isolative behaviors as a child, poor impulse control, conduct disorder during childhood, victimization of various sorts during childhood, to name several.

Nick: News reports indicate the Golden State Killer was active between 1976 and 1986. Is it likely he stopped committing these crimes?

Dr. Raffle: On a probability basis, he didn’t stop committing his crimes after 1986. The nature of his fantasies may have changed over time such that subsequent murders were dissimilar enough from the earlier murders that they don’t share enough commonality to identify him as the perpetrator.

Nick: Is it uncommon for a serial killer to stop committing crimes?

Dr. Raffle: It is common for a serial killer to continue committing crimes.

Nick: Are there items you think the public should know about forensic psychiatry, as it relates to the Golden State Killer, that I have not covered in the above questions?

Dr. Raffle:

a) Serial murder is an extremely uncommon occurrence. It is extremely difficult to prospectively predict a particular person will become a serial killer, irrespective of the forensic psychiatrist’s ability.

b) The ritualistic behaviors of a serial killer do not define insanity or even suggest it​. Serial killers as a group are cunning individuals who seek not to be caught, who do not confess, and who obtain considerable self-satisfaction at the expense of their victims.

c) Serial killers as a group do not understand the intrinsic causes of their behavior and are extremely unlikely to be cured of their obsessional murdering. As the practice of psychiatry now exists, it is unreasonable to expect successful treatment of a serial killer.

d) The FBI Behavioral Studies Unit has interviewed and analyzed all of the serial killers who have been brought to justice. Certain statistical profiles exist which assist law enforcement to “profile” a serial killer based upon the victim type and associated rituals. Roy Hazelwood headed the unit for approximately 20 years and probably knows more about serial murderers than anyone else. His work has been instrumental in creating “profilers.”

e) The psychological makeup of serial killers is different from mass murderers. Serial killers who kill by sniping random people or cars are psychologically more similar to the mass murderer than the serial killer because they usually snipe more than one person during a shooting episode.

f) Contract killers are not serial killers. The mentality of a paid assassin is essentially that of an antisocial ​person who does not empathize with his victims and is therefore comfortable earning his or her living killing others. The obsessional quality or ritualistic behavior of the serial killer is not shared with the assassin. Their only common ground is they have killed more than once. The difference is the assassin is told whom to kill and is paid for it; whereas the serial murderer chooses his victims and engages in other behaviors in addition to a murder which satisfies unconscious needs. Conceptually, as serial murderers go, the assassin is “professional” and the serial murderer is a “hobbyist.”

Stay Tuned:

A huge thank you to Dr. Raffle for his very thorough insight into the mind of the Golden State Killer. Next week we’ll be bringing you more insights on the psychological nature of this perpetrator with input from some of our forensic psychology expert witnesses.

 

 

 

Criminal JusticeCriminal LawForensic DNA

Golden State Killer, Part 1: Experts Explain Forensic DNA Evidence

This marks the first blog post I’ve written on a local event of national concern, the arrest of the Golden State Killer. The subject matter is sensitive for many involved, as such I aim to treat the topic with respect. There are significant issues related to the use of expert witnesses in a matter of this magnitude (DNA, ballistics, crime scene investigation and reconstruction, forensic psychology, forensic psychiatry, and more), so I have opted to address those issues with the input of appropriate experts.

In the week and a half since the arrest of suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr., those of us in Northern California have been inundated with news reports about the crimes attributed to this prolific serial rapist and murderer who lived less than an hours drive from the Experts.com corporate office.

Prior to the arrest, I only knew bits and pieces about the history of the Golden State Killer (AKA: East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker, Visalia Ransacker). Little did I know that several of the attacks (rapes) happened in my hometown of Stockton, California, putting the city and San Joaquin County on edge in late 1977 to early 1978. The Stockton attacks took place before and after many similar attacks in neighboring Sacramento and Stanislaus Counties, so the entire Central Valley was nervous. Attacks in Stockton apparently resulted in my parents installing their first alarm system.

How did the police locate the suspect?

The Sacramento Bee, has published many articles on the subject since the story first broke at the end of April. They have done some incredibly thorough reporting and I have used their reporting as a guide to writing this article.

It seems investigators had DNA samples from rape victims for decades. The only problem was the DNA samples did not match any of the DNA in criminal databases maintained by law enforcement. This means the suspect had never been caught for any crime and thus his DNA had never been submitted to one of the criminal DNA databases.

Following up on the Golden State Killer cold case, investigators decided to use an open-source genealogy database called GEDmatch. This is similar to the paid services of Ancestry.com and 23andMe, only it is mostly free to the public. Once the DNA profile was uploaded, investigators discovered a pool of potential candidates or relatives with similar genes. From there, they were able to eliminate suspects due to age, sex, location, etc. Eventually, they filtered down to the only suspect who made sense: Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr. After surveilling the suspect, DNA samples were obtained from items he discarded. Investigators then compared those samples to the Golden State Killer DNA. After a several attempts, detectives discovered a solid match and arrested DeAngelo.

DNA evidence is complicated, so I reached out to several of our members to discuss the DNA evidence involved in this case. Two Experts.com members responded to my questions for the first portion of this series on forensics.

DNA

Suzanna Ryan – Forensic Serology & DNA Expert Witness:

Blog readers may remember a really fun and informative live interview I did with forensic serology and DNA expert, Suzanna Ryan. She provided live and recorded viewers with some fascinating information on forensic DNA analysis. Naturally,  I reached out to her for input on the Golden State Killer case.

It is important for readers to remember we are only commenting on publicly available information from news reports. As in previous articles, I have outlined my questions and Ms. Ryan’s answers below. To learn more about her practice, please visit her website: ryanforensicdna.com.

Questions:

Nick: What are the types/forms of DNA evidence law enforcement is likely to have retrieved from Golden State Killer crime scenes?

Ms. Ryan: I am not sure I know enough about the cases to say for sure, but it sounds like at least some of the cases involved rape, so it is likely that in the mid-70s and mid-80s the perpetrator was not being very careful about not leaving his DNA – in the form of semen – behind.  There is a lot of DNA in semen and it is likely that a clean, single source profile was able to be obtained from those type of samples.  That is probably how the cases were linked to each other as well.

Nick: Is there a type/form of DNA that is more compelling or stronger evidence than other types?

Ms. Ryan: Body fluid DNA is typically,  in my view, more compelling evidence because it is more difficult to argue that the DNA arrived there inadvertently through some sort of secondary transfer. This is especially true if the perpetrator and victim did not know each other and there would be no reason for the perpetrator’s blood to be in the victim’s home, for example, or his semen in her body.

Nick: According to news reports, the last known Golden State Killer crime took place in 1986. Does DNA evidence degrade over time?

Ms. Ryan: DNA evidence can degrade over time, but if it is properly stored (i.e. in paper, not plastic and in a temperature controlled environment like an indoor property room – NOT in an attic, garage, or non-temperature controlled shed of some sort) then DNA profiles can be obtained many years later.  Heat, humidity, and moisture are all very detrimental to DNA evidence.

Nick: How does law enforcement maintain DNA evidence over decades?

Ms. Ryan: Once a profile is obtained from an item of evidence, that profile is stored electronically.  However, evidence that has not been tested or is part of an unsolved case will be stored in police evidence rooms, categorized by case number.  It should remain sealed and in paper bags, manila envelopes, or boxes.

Nick: From public reports, we know law enforcement has found a DNA match. What type of evidence will the prosecution have to present at trial to prove the DNA belongs to the suspect?

Ms. Ryan: I don’t know the answer to this.  Likely semen DNA evidence.  Possibly blood or even touch DNA at some of the crime scenes if re-testing or additional testing of evidence is conducted.

Nick: Are there arguments the defense can use to claim the DNA is not from the suspect?

Ms. Ryan: I’m sure there are.  No way to answer this unless the case files are reviewed. However, when you have multiple cases linked together combined with a database-type match like this (in other words, he wasn’t a suspect before but was found through searching one type of database or another) it becomes more difficult to argue that there is some sort of laboratory error or cross-contamination in the lab.

Nick: Are there items you think the public should know about DNA evidence that I have not covered in the above questions?

Ms. Ryan: You didn’t really ask about the whole forensic genealogy aspect to this.  That the investigators used a private lab (not sure who, but I suspect Parabon) to do the same type of DNA typing (SNPs) that ancestry DNA labs do on an evidence sample from the case.  That profile was then uploaded to one (and frankly, probably more than one) DNA sharing site to search for a possible relative.  There is also some news about some other guy in a nursing home being a suspect, etc.  There was apparently similarities in his DNA profile to the GSK, so they got a warrant for his DNA, did a comparison, and found he was excluded.  That doesn’t mean they “got the wrong guy”, etc. that is being played up in the media.  It means that he was a possible suspect because of his DNA, but he was also cleared, because of his DNA.  The police probably followed around and surreptitiously collected DNA from a LOT of guys before they found DeAngelo.  That’s kind of how this type of search goes.  It is similar to, but not the same as familial DNA searching.  That is something the public and media don’t understand.  Familial searching uses the CODIS database to look for near matches.  It works because 46% of offenders have a brother or father who is also incarcerated.

George Schiro – DNA Technical Leader & Forensic Science Expert Witness:

George Schiro is the Lab Director of Scales Biological Laboratory in Brandon, Mississippi. His duties include incorporating DNA Advisory Board (DAB) standards, accountability for the technical operations of the lab, conducting DNA analysis in casework, DNA research, forensic science training, and crime scene investigation. I posed the same questions to Mr. Schiro that were presented to Ms. Ryan. You can learn more about him by visiting his website: forensicscienceresources.com.

Questions:

Nick: What are the types/forms of DNA evidence law enforcement is likely to have retrieved from Golden State Killer crime scenes?

Mr. Schiro: I know that seminal fluid was collected from at least some the crime scenes, and the GSK may have injured himself at some point during one of the many attacks and left blood behind at one or more of the scenes. These are the two most likely sources of DNA found at the scenes. From this biological evidence, they would have done autosomal short tandem repeat (STR) DNA testing on the stains. This generated DNA profiles that the crime labs were able to upload to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) DNA database. This was how they originally connected the East Area Rapist (EAR) with the Original Night Stalker (ONS) and knew they were committed by a single individual. The profile in CODIS did not hit on any identifiable individual in the database. A familial search was also conducted at the state level (SDIS) to look for any potential relatives in the CODIS database. No potential relatives were found in the database. They may have also conducted Y chromosome STR (Y STR) DNA analysis on the samples in an effort to find any potential relatives. It is my understanding that they found a rare genetic marker in one of the samples and used a publicly available genealogy database to trace the marker from family members in the database back to Joseph James DeAngelo. They then used a discarded item from Mr. DeAngelo to compare his autosomal STR profile to that of the GSK and they matched the profiles.

Nick: Is there a type/form of DNA that is more compelling or stronger evidence than other types?

Mr. Schiro: Autosomal STR DNA analysis is currently the strongest type of DNA evidence because it remains consistent throughout a person’s life; with a few, rare exceptions, the DNA is the same throughout the individual’s body; the results are highly reproducible; the methods are standardized; and this type of DNA is highly individualizing. Theoretically, enough autosomal STRs are used to distinguish everyone on the planet with the exception of identical twins. Eventually, next generation sequencing (NGS) will probably supplement, and, perhaps, eventually replace autosomal STR DNA analysis as the crime lab tool of choice.

Nick: According to news reports, the last known Golden State Killer crime took place in 1986. Does DNA evidence degrade over time?

Mr. Schiro: DNA will degrade over time if it is exposed to heat, humidity, or ultraviolet (UV) light; however, if it is air-dried when collected and stored at room temperature under climate controlled conditions to reduce humidity, then it can last for decades, perhaps centuries. DNA has been obtained from mummies, so it is a very stable molecule under the right conditions.

Nick: How does law enforcement maintain DNA evidence over decades?

Mr. Schiro: Law enforcement maintains DNA evidence by air drying it upon collection, then keeping it stored in an air-conditioned, secure location where the temperature and humidity can be regulated.

Nick: From public reports, we know law enforcement has found a DNA match. What type of evidence will the prosecution have to present at trial to prove the DNA belongs to the suspect?

Mr. Schiro: They will have to show that the evidence originated from the crime scenes. They can do this by introducing crime scene photographs, videos, investigator notes, and testimony of the people who collected the evidence. They will then have to show that the evidence was stored and preserved properly; and the evidence chain of custody was maintained. They will have to show that the items were tested using validated techniques and that a report was produced. The report can be introduced at trial and the DNA analyst can testify to the tests and results. They will then have to show that a sample was collected from Joseph James DeAngelo and all of the same steps were taken with his sample. Finally, they will have to show how the DNA samples from the crime scenes match the DNA sample from Mr. DeAngelo.

Nick: Are there arguments the defense can use to claim the DNA is not from the suspect?

Mr. Schiro: In a cold case DNA hit, such as this one, and because the DNA is from seminal fluid and, possibly, blood, it will be very difficult to argue that Mr. DeAngelo is not the source of the DNA. Arguments of potential sample switches, contamination, and secondary transfer of DNA will not apply to this kind of case. About the only avenues left to the defense are to challenge the legality of the evidence collection and the legality of obtaining Mr. DeAngelo’s reference sample. They can also argue that Mr. DeAngelo has an identical twin who is the actual killer/rapist, but this might not be a realistic defense.

Nick: Are there items you think the public should know about DNA evidence that I have not covered in the above questions?

Mr. Schiro: No, I think you covered it pretty well. Thanks.

How about some further input:

My friend and colleague, Tamara McCormic of LegalForms.Today, is a legal advocate based in Orange County, California. Tamara works for the Orange County Public Defender in their exoneration unit. She is very knowledgeable about the use of DNA evidence in violent crimes. As several of the alleged murders took place in Orange County, this matter hits close to home for her as well.

I’ve asked Tamara to share her thoughts on the Golden State Killer matter based on her experience in homicide exoneration. A link to her blog post will be made available shortly.

 

EnergyEngineeringExpert Witness

Expert Witnesses and North Korea? They Will Be Used to Verify Closure of Nuclear Test Site

Were you as surprised as I was to see the phrase “expert witnesses” in the same sentence as North, Korea? When I got back to the office this morning after a several days in New Orleans at the ABA GPSolo / GLSA Conference, I went through my emails, including my Google Alerts for “expert witness” and “expert witnesses.” One article, in particular, caught my attention. A post from ITV News titled, “North Korea ‘to close nuclear site’ in May in front of international expert witnesses,” got me thinking about what type of experts might be used in to verify the closure of a nuclear site. I understand that this probably means Kim Jong-Un will invite experts to witness the closure and is not likely referring to expert witnesses in the traditional-US-legal-system-sense.

Of course this article interested me because it brought together my employment and my undergraduate studies in Political Science / International Relations. In fact, the Dean of Political Science at my college specialized in the politics of the Korean Peninsula. I had taken several of his courses and respected him immensely, so this story really intrigued me.

Now, I do recall the verification processes that went along with the lead up to the war in Iraq. There were efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. It would not be a surprise to hear that the IAEA were involved in verifying the closure of a North Korean nuclear site. I do not want to get caught up on the particular agency taking part in this inspection. Rather, I am interested in the knowledge and specialization of the experts who may be asked to witness the closure.

According to the story from ITV News, “Kim Jong-un announced he would invite representatives from both South Korea and the US to witness the closure as the two Korean leaders met for a historic summit on Friday.”  What type of experts will be brought to witness the closure? How will we know the nuclear site is closed? Who verifies that it has been closed? What type of expertise is needed to verify the closure? These, and other questions were posed to some of our Nuclear Energy expert witnesses.

Before getting into the nuclear energy experts, I should also say that the above article really has to do with nuclear weapons testing, rather than the production of nuclear material. Our experts are more likely familiar with the production of nuclear material and that is what I have focused on as that will likely be a future step in negotiations.

Input from a Nuclear / Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness:

I reached out to one of our members based in the UK to get some answers on this subject. Geoffrey Beresford Hartwell is a Chartered Engineer who specialized in aerospace and nuclear energy early in his career. You can learn more about his current practice by visiting his website: arbitrator-engineer-gbh.co.uk. For ease of reading, I have distinguished between the questions I asked and the answers provided by Mr. Hartwell.

Nick: What type of experts would be used to confirm the nuclear testing facility is shut down?

Mr. Hartwell: I would suggest nuclear engineers or health physicists equipped with Geiger Counters and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They should be able to detect remaining radioactive traces by their emission of alpha particles, beta particles or gamma rays.  They must test in apparently empty containers.

Nick: Would someone with your expertise be asked to participate?

Mr. Hartwell: I imagine so but my membership of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers lapsed after some health issues.

Nick: What is the process for closing a nuclear facility?

Mr. Hartwell:

A) Remove all active material to long-term storage approved by IAEA.  In contentious circumstances that should involve processing at a facility in Britain, USA or France.  I do not know if a facility is Russia would be appropriate.

B) Clean to IAEA requirements.  Dismantle plant and equipment.

C) After safety inspection (see Q.1) destroy nuclear specific buildings.  Reactor buildings, if any, may need special attention – insertion of boron absorber; casing in concrete; fencing.

Nick: How long might it take to close a nuclear facility?

Mr. Hartwell: Weeks, possibly months, perhaps many months.

Nick: Can a nuclear facility be reopened with relative ease?

Mr. Hartwell: Yes, if nuclear-specific buildings are left intact.

Nick: To prevent future activity at a nuclear facility, wouldn’t there have to be some action to dismantle a facility?

Mr. Hartwell: Yes.

Nick: What would it take to make sure that a nuclear facility is shut down and remains inactive in the future?

Mr. Hartwell: Demolish Nuclear-specific equipment and buildings – under IAEA supervision.

Nick: What items does the public need to know about closing a nuclear site?

Mr. Hartwell: Report of IAEA; open visits to site.

Nick: Any other comments you’d like to add. Important items that I have not covered in the above questions…

Mr. Hartwell: Disposal of materials is difficult; some remains radioactive for centuries.  Removing some materials – such as, from some reactors, hot liquid sodium which cannot be in contact with moisture – can be dangerous.

Well there you have it. Geopolitical affairs are taking place all around us. We get to wait and see what will happen with not only the nuclear testing site, but other nuclear production sites in North Korea. If another story presents itself in a way that I can write about it, I will.

I’d like to say I’m waiting for comment from Kim Jong-Un for this article, but his people are not returning my phone calls. I think they blocked my number.