Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's been a bad week for law enforcement and dogs

First was the well-covered story of the Supreme Court ruling that traffic stops couldn't be extended, even briefly, to allow for drug-sniffing dogs to take a whiff around the car (yes, Rumpole, that was Scalia in the majority).

And next is this awful story about the FBI lying in courtrooms around the country about hair samples. In this particular case, the FBI convicted a man using hair analysis when the hair at issue was a dog's hair!

In one particularly shocking case from 1978, two FBI-trained hair analysts who helped in the prosecution of a murder case couldn’t even tell the difference between human hair and dog hair.

The case involved a murder in Washington D.C. that year. The victim, a cab driver, was robbed and killed in front of his home. Before long, police centered upon Santae Tribble, then a 17-year-old local from the neighborhood, as a suspect.

Tribble maintained his innocence. But no matter what he said and how much his friends vouched, two FBI forensics experts claimed that a single strand of hair recovered near the scene of the crime matched Tribble’s DNA. Thanks to that evidence, which was groundbreaking at the time, Tribble was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison after 40 minutes of jury deliberation, reported the Washington Post.

He would go on to serve 28 years until the truth came out: an independent analysis found that the FBI testimony was flawed. Not a single hair that was found on the scene matched his DNA. After attorneys brought the evidence to the courts, Tribble was exonerated of the crime, though he’d already been released from prison. “The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of at trial,” a judge wrote in the certificate of innocence released at the time, in 2012.

It gets worse. Not only did none of the hairs presented as evidence in trial belonged to Tribble, the private lab found that one of the hairs actually came from a dog.

“Such is the true state of hair microscopy,” Sandra K. Levick, Tribble’s lawyer, wrote at the time, in 2012. “Two FBI-trained analysts… could not even distinguish human hairs from canine hairs.”

Tribble’s case in not unique. In a Washington Post story released over the weekend, officials from the FBI and the Justice Department acknowledged the extent of their flawed use of hair forensics prosecutions prior to 2000.

The numbers are staggering. Over 95 percent of the cases involving hair evidence that the FBI has reviewed so far contained flawed testimony—257 out of 268 cases.

Ho hum. No one seems to care.


Rumpole said...

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted de-fendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that ques-tion unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt thatany claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitu-tionally cognizable.

In Re Troy Davis, Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Scalia, J., dissenting. 2009.

Yeah, Scalia is quite the friend of the accused.

Literati said...

In DOM's defense, Troy Davis wasn't "accused," he was already convicted. Scalia does rule in favor of criminal defendants more often than liberals would like to admit.

P. Guyotat said...

In the name of Originalism, and citing 17th-century case law, Scalia f*d up the Confrontation Clause. Was good for criminal defendants, but terrible for everyone else -- including lower courts, who actually have to interpret and apply his decision. Don't deny, Literati.

Anonymous said...

It's a bad week for Wiiliam Hill at Gunster and his client Bernie Roman, too!

Anonymous said...

He did say dogs...

Bob Becerra said...

Bad week for Dogs, good week for free humans.