Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More falsified results from Houston crime lab

Let's continue on the Houston crime lab theme this a.m. and take a look at this recent story (June 8) from the Houston Press' Hairballs blog about apparently falsified lab results in a death penalty case:
It's good news for death row inmate Charles Raby - and more bad news for Joseph Chu.

The former Houston crime lab analyst has taken a beating in the Michael Bromwich reports, which determined that, among other things, the lab had manipulated results to help with convictions. And it seems that in the case of Raby, who was convicted in 1994 of brutally murdering a grandmother, Chu did exactly that.

Back in April, Raby's DNA challenge, which has been going on more than six years, was postponed yet again pending an outside expert's look into Chu's blood-typing work in the original trial. Chu had found two separate blood types under the victim's fingernails, and they belonged to neither Raby nor the victim. Yet Chu simply listed the results as inconclusive.

The report came in last week. In her conclusion, Patricia P. Hamby, the outside expert, states that Chu's "inconclusive" reporting "is contrary to and not supported by the recorded laboratory test results for the left and right fingernail samples."
In other words, Chu lied about the lab results.

Reporting that evidence excluding a defendant was "inconclusive" is the kind of thing that happens when a "team spirit" mentality overtakes forensic workers and they come to consider themselves more as cops than scientists. Even if Raby is truly guilty (and I have no specific knowledge of the case), that doesn't excuse authorities employing what amounts to perjurious testimony (the false lab report) to convict him.

The US Supreme Court will soon decide a case that will determine whether lab reports are "testimonial" documents. But since they took that case, history has virtually mooted the point, especially after the publication earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences showing that quite a few common forensic practices are based on pseudoscience and folklore that's unsupported by experimental science.

The Houston crime lab debacle puts the lie to the notion that lab workers' conclusions don't require cross-examination. Chu's reported results in this case were not objective scientific analyses but skewed misrepresentations designed to help secure a conviction. It's hard to see how any fair-minded jurist would find that justice is fairly served by assuming such conclusions are true without subjecting them to the adversarial process.

RELATED: From the blog Plain Error, see the story of another man who was the victim of overt misconduct at the Houston crime lab.


elvez1975 said...

The notion, in light of these kind of practices, that this evidence is somehow objectively neutral is ridiculous. That States have crafted laws that require the defendants to launch some kind of objection or require them to subpoena techs to preserve lab report objections is preposterous.

That being said, I would think that it will be close. Scalia and seems think that the State is trying to shift the burden of proof to the defense. Those opposed seem to be Roberts, Alito, and Thomas (and maybe Kennedy), but Ginsburg did push the petitioner's attorney at oral argument.

Anonymous said...

There is a long and sad history of poor science, exaggerated findings, misleading uses of scientific technology and outright fraudulent uses by CSI folks.

The key to getting a handle on all of this is to separate the CSI analysis and reporting from the police. An important secondary element would be to reward investigators for use of evidence based "best practices" and adherence to appropriate and ethical uses of scientific investigation and technology -- regardless of who the findings support or undercut.

Hook Em Horns said...

There us a long and sad history in Houston of idiots and liars working in the crime lab. Since Harris County sends more people to prison and death row than any other county, I have a sick feeling that this lab will have directly put an innocent person to death before this debacle is over.

Jackie Buffalo said...

I'm just going to throw up.

admin said...

I am pleased to announce that Ryan Williams, Mike Giglio and Regina Carr are currently collaborating on a documentary film featuring the Charles Raby case. This will include the crime lab and the problems that plague prosecuting Charles.