‘…the “growing debate among the scientific and legal communities” regarding the use of the terms “identification” or “individualization” in court to associate “an item of evidence to a specific known source.”‘
‘…the dilemma this scientific transition is causing for veteran forensics experts. “Examiners in some forensic science disciplines have been trained that if you aren’t certain about your result, you don’t say anything,”‘
‘”These people have been trained another way, and some view this effort as ‘You’re asking me to do a less competent job, because you’re asking me to pretend I’m uncertain when I’m certain, and you’re asking me to testify when I’m not certain.’
By Michael M. Cox, Ph.D., Evelyn M. Mercer
Published by the NIJ
Almost every day, DNA samples are collected from the scenes of crimes or disasters that are too degraded for standard forensic DNA analytical procedures. This fact represents an ongoing impediment to law enforcement and victim identification efforts. Many law enforcement agencies also possess archived crime scene evidence from cold cases that are decades old, in which the DNA has become too damaged to analyze. The major problem in these samples is the presence of DNA double strand breaks. The purpose of the work carried out under grant 2010-DN-BX-K190 is to develop a new method to repair double strand breaks in forensic DNA samples, as a pretreatment for the standard STR analysis protocols. As part of this effort, we have also developed reproducible procedures for the artificial degradation of human DNA samples, using ionizing radiation to inflict a DNA damage profile that reprises that of a typical degraded forensic sample. Using this type of DNA as a test bed, we have developed a protocol that is successful in increasing/restoring missing or substandard signals at two STR loci. The protocol utilizes the bacterial RecA protein, single-stranded DNA binding protein (SSB), and bacterial DNA polymerase I, in concert with a targeting oligonucleotide. The reactions promoted by these reagents effectively restore damaged DNA flanking a particular STR locus. With the most developed protocol, signal restoration is successful approximately 20% of the time. With a few exceptions, the restored signals are accurate. The artifacts arising in the exceptions have been traced to the targeting oligonucleotides. Efforts to further develop this technology are continuing, focused on new RecA protein variants that increase signal strength and re-designed targeting oligonucleotides.
We have also been successful in demonstrating proof of principle in efforts to recover targeted DNA segments and remove them from bulk DNA in an effort to concentrate them and eliminate conditions that could inhibit STR amplification.
A new study published by the NIJ, demonstrates positive recovery of DNA for up to 10 days following intercourse. Given various circumstances that may lead to delays in reporting or testing, it’s good to know that current testing methods may still yield results even with a substantial delay.
The study can be accessed here (in .pdf format): https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/248682.pdf
Interesting historic video on crime scene investigation and forensic science. I have a copy as well, that I purchased on DVD from the National Archives. The date on the original is a bit unclear, but it appears to have been made around 1960. It should be noted that some of the practices shown are no longer up to date, and that current safety precautions are not in use. It’s still interesting from a historical standpoint.
Even though magnetic powder has been available since the early 1960’s, many latent print examiners and crime scene technicians are still not using it to full advantage. Magnetic powder adds a wide range of flexibility to one’s resources. In general, magnetic powder is used on non-magnetic surfaces, and regular powder on iron-based surfaces. However, regular fingerprint powder is inappropriate for some surfaces, including many plastics and textured surfaces, where magnetic powder develops latent prints very well. Textured surfaces such as vinyl imitation-leather or lightly textured automobile dashboards or door panels often respond well to magnetic powder, where regular powder would pack into the low places in the texturing and make development of a good latent impossible. In addition, using the “hot breath” technique, also known as “huffing” works better with magnetic powder than with regular powder. Continue reading →
Edmond Locard was the founder of the Institute of Criminalistics at the University of Lyon in France. Locard believed that that when on person came in contact with another person or object a cross transfer of minute particles occurred. This theory became known as the “Locard Exchange Principle”. Locard believed that crimes could be solved by inspecting the “dust particles” carried to and from a scene. This science is known today as criminalistics and has led to the rise of the forensics laboratory (from Mount Royal College background notes FORE 4407 section 3: Unit 4) Francois Goron, head of the French Surete, seems to be one of the first modern investigators who tried to use hair to identify a killer. In his first case hairs found clutched in a dead woman’s hand could not be identified as human simply because there was no information on the subject.
The inability of the scientific community to distinguish between animal and human hair raised interest in the analysis of hair. In the years that followed researchers began to collect information about the structure of human and animal hair (Block, 1979). In 1899, several years after his original failure, in a case known as “L’affaire Gouffe” Francois Goron was able to establish that a murder victim’s hair had been dyed. Establishing this simple fact led to the identification of Gouffe’s body and subsequently to the arrest of his killers (Block 1979). Francios Goron had successfully used forensic hair examination to solve a crime. Continue reading →
A man is found dead in an abandoned house. Upon examination the medical examiner finds that the man was killed by a single gunshot to the head. Three local teens where observed near the house two days earlier. They are picked up and questioned by police. When pressured, the teens admit to having stolen one of the boys’ father’s guns. They had taken turns shooting at the windows of an abandoned house.
The teens admit that John shot the gun first, then Jay and last was Fred. At the scene the investigators find three bullet holes in a window. They analyze the angle of each bullet hole in relation to the victim and find that the bullet which passed through the far right side of the window pane is the one which fatally wounded the man. Continue reading →