Arizona Criminal Cases Subject to Forensic Error

by Rowley Chapman & Barney, Ltd.
Contact

Three months ago, a man was released from a Phoenix prison after serving 42 years for the murders of 29 people – murders we now know he did not commit.

In fact, he may have actually been a hero, with witnesses saying they saw him pull several women and children from the burning Tucson hotel that he was later accused of setting on fire.

Our Mesa felony defense lawyers understand that what eventually freed him was new investigative methods that show no evidence that arson was the cause of the blaze.

In this case, it was forensics that ultimately freed him. However, what we are too often seeing is that the value of forensics or the “expertise” of self-identified experts are highly overstated.

This is precisely why as of this moment, the U.S. Department of Justice, in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is in the midst of a review of thousands of case files involving criminal convictions.

The investigation was launched following an 11th-hour stay of execution extended in Mississippi this spring when it was revealed that faulty hair follicle analysis by the FBI likely resulted in a bad conviction. That led to three D.C.-area men also being exonerated on similar grounds.

So far, this unprecedented review of these old cases has revealed evidence that at least 27 death penalty convictions were secured with FBI forensic expert testimony that could have mistakenly linked defendants to heinous crimes. The review has thus far shown that scientists overstated the veracity of that evidence when testifying before jurors in a court of law.

We don’t know yet how many of these cases involved errors or further how many of these individuals may be innocent. What we do know is that this has prompted a number of state and local agencies and labs to analyze their own procedures.

In the FBI’s case, it’s been revealed that there was a widespread practice of exaggerating the significance of alleged “matches” in the analysis of hair found at the scene of crimes. FBI scientific reports dating back to the 1970s show the agency knew those matches didn’t equal a 100 percent positive identification. However, when they took the witness stand, they made such evidence sound infallible.

Jurors tend to hold forensic evidence in very high regard. Sometimes, that is with good reason. However, forensics aren’t infallible and it’s important that defense attorneys take seriously their duty to thoroughly examine the methods and processes of the labs that churn out such evidence.

The FBI review spans some 22,000 case files generated from 1979 through 2009. It’s worth noting that many state and local authorities relied on officials at these same labs to process their own forensic evidence.

There have been more than a few cases in recent memory where other labs were found to have been sloppy with their practices or have technicians who overstated their qualifications or even outright lied.

The reality is that forensic evidence has the potential to be imperfect so long as people are imperfect.

That’s why who you choose to defend you is sometimes just as important as the issue of whether you are innocent.

If you have been arrested in Mesa, contact our Mesa criminal defense attorneys at (480) 833-1113.

Additional Resources:

Louise Taylor Emotional After Serving 42 Years in Prison for Wrongful Conviction of Hotel Fire in 1970, April 3, 2013, USA Today

U.S. reviewing 27 death penalty convictions for FBI forensic testimony errors, July 17, 2013, By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post

More Blog Entries:

Lessons from the George Zimmerman Case, July 15, 2013, Mesa Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Rowley Chapman & Barney, Ltd. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Rowley Chapman & Barney, Ltd.
Contact
more
less

Rowley Chapman & Barney, Ltd. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!