Articles Posted in Forensic Evidence

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When the police arrive at a crime scene the yellow tape goes up securing the scene. We’ve all seen it on the television show, CSI. In fact, according to CSI Los Angeles, Miami, Navy and everywhere on television it’s the science of the crime scene investigation which solves the crime. The rest of the actors are just the means to the end. It’s the DNA, fingerprint analysis, and countless other scientific advances that lead to the solving of the crime. But, what happens to the evidence once it’s collected?

It’s the Crime Scene Investigator’s job to collect the evidence. This evidence can be identified by the first responders, the detectives at the scene, and the CSI people themselves. Some of it is located simply by drawing a chalk mark around it and some has to be found by means of instruments. Once collected it’s placed in collection containers. These can be as simple as paper lunch sacks. For example, bullet casings are often placed into paper lunch sacks. The container is then closed and secured with evidence tape, initialed by the collector, and placed into an evidence locker for later analysis or use in court.

But, what happens if the evidence is collected and then given back to the victim? For example, if a wallet is stolen, and the culprit is found a short time later with the wallet often times the police will give the wallet back to the victim. Sometimes photographs may be taken to preserve the look of the item but the possibility of forensic analysis is lost forever to the suspect. DNA analysis is no longer a possibility once the item is returned without any attempt to preserve the item for analysis.

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Lawyers must continue their formal legal training no matter how long they have been practicing law. The California State Bar Association requires lawyers to attend Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes and monitors or audits lawyers’ records to ensure they have attended the necessary number of hours. This is true even for lawyers, like me, who teach other lawyers about how to defend driving under the influence cases.

CLE is important for two reasons. First, lawyers have to keep up on changes in the law and there isn’t any better way than to attend classes taught by experts in their field. Second, CLE is a great way to continue to be energized about the practice of law. It’s exciting to attend a conference and talk to other lawyers about how they are defending their cases. Attending the conference and listening to other defense lawyers is one thing but discussing your particularly difficult cases with other defense attorneys in a consultation is really exciting. It’s like having a law firm of the best of the best working together to put a winning strategy in action.

I recently attended the Capital Case Defense Seminar. Nearly 1000 other criminal defense lawyers were brought together to learn, discuss, and work towards eliminating the death penalty in California. During the conference Barry Scheck gave a very informative talk on Forensic Evidence. Of course, Barry Scheck has worked tirelessly through The Innocence Project to free many wrongfully convicted innocent defendants. Finding out how he helped to free an innocent man after 26 years of imprisonment in Texas was inspiring. Listening to him speak makes me want to be a better lawyer.

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DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the genetic material found in nearly every cell in the human body. It is as unique to each person as a fingerprint, and can be used to exclude a suspect in a crime, or indicate that the person is guilty.

DNA can be found at a crime scene through many things; bodily fluids, hair, skin cells. It can be obtained from almost any source, a hat, a drinking glass, a hair left at the scene. Since it is found in virtually all human cells, any cell left behind at the crime scene that is found by the police, can be examined.

Forensic scientists speak in their own language. A suspect can be either excluded or not excluded. If the person cannot be excluded, then the scientist usually says there is an astronomically high probability it is someone beside you. In other words, the scientist might say something like there is a one in one trillion chance the DNA belonged to someone OTHER than you. For all practical purposes this means the DNA belongs to you.

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