NCSTL's Quarterly e-Newsletter
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK... Carol Henderson
This column is a synopsis of NCSTL’s latest accomplishments.
NCSTL.org has had over 1,317,792 visitors. People from over 170 countries search the growing database which contains over 143,128 records (8,500 are multimedia records). This past year thirty students contributed research to the database and earned legal pro bono credits toward graduation; 500 students have worked on the project since its inception.
NCSTL has developed a new online self-study course, “Locating, Evaluating, and Selecting Expert Witnesses,” in collaboration with The Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) at the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service. The course focuses on the process and details of working with expert witnesses. It was released in August, 2015. For more information, see TECHNOLOGY AND DISTANCE EDUCATION NEWS on this page.
I continue to serve as the Co-Chair of the Life & Physical Sciences Division of the Science & Technology Law Section of the ABA and as a member of the ABA Judicial Division’s Forensic Committee. The Judicial Division and the Science & Technology Law Section sponsored a symposium, "Can the Gatekeeping Function of the Court Improve the Quality of Forensic Science?” at Northwestern University on April 10, 2015. At the symposium I delivered a presentation “Improving the Gate – The Future of the Courts and Forensic Science.” The Judicial Division, Criminal Justice Section and the Science & Technology Law Section sponsored Resolution 115, which was adopted by the House of Delegates on August 4, 2015:
The American Bar Association urges the National Commission on Forensic Science to develop a model curriculum in the law and forensic science, and to provide training in that curriculum for federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal judges.
The House of Delegates is the policy-making body of the ABA. Any actions by the House of Delegates become official ABA Policy.
On September 1, 2015, I gave a presentation “Judicial and Legal Education in the Forensic Sciences: How Far Have Progressed on the Path Forward?” in Prague at the European Academy of Forensic Science Conference.
In September NCSTL received a $400,000 grant from BJA to produce eight webinars and two in- person training sessions focusing on “Crime Scene to Courtroom Forensics for Capital Litigators. Our first webinar will air in early March, 2016. Our first in-person training is scheduled in June, 2016.
On October 25, 2015 I made a presentation to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Forensic Science Committee regarding the grant project and the Stetson/LEIC online training program, “Locating, Evaluating and Selecting Expert Witnesses, for which I serve as the faculty presenter.
In November, 2015 I gave three presentations in Australia. On November 5 at the Australia New Zealand Forensic Society (ANZFS) for the Northern Territory, I presented “NCSTL as a Resource”. On November 7 in Darwin at the Australian Society of Forensic Odontology Symposium, I presented "Overview of NCSTL and NCSTL's Recent Projects". On November 10, at the University of Technology in Sydney, I presented “A View of U.S. Forensic Science: The Path Forward Since the NAS Report.”
While in Australia, I met with Trevor Riley, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, and attended a lecture given by Judge JC Gibson, from the New South Wales District Court, on the use of social media in investigations. Most recently, I have been appointed as a member of the National Judicial College’s Scientific Evidence Course faculty. The course will be held September 26-29, 2016 in Clearwater, FL.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!
Three Court Decisions at the Intersection of Law and Science
Jules Epstein, JD, Professor of Law, Widener University School of Law
“Law and science are often awkward companions. Science accepts uncertainty while law exhalts finality; science is essential in the courtroom, but is often misunderstood or misapplied (or ignored) by the non-science-trained lawyer; and the two often speak different languages. Yet, however ill-fitted their co-existence, they remain paired; and as a result lawyers and scientists must attend to court decisions that address and guide their interface. This article reviews three recent holdings: ….”
"Speaking in a unanimous voice, the United States Supreme Court ventured into the arena of assessing a lawyer’s past performance in light of the advance of science. While overtly a decision on how courts analyze old cases, the holding may also send a message – in this author’s estimation a wrong one – to lawyers." Full paper
Can Investigators Objectively Navigate Bloodstain Pattern Evidence When Presented with Potentially Biasing Information?
Karen L. Smith, M.S., and David N. Khey, Ph.D., M.S.
This paper is designed to give trial attorneys some basics on how to examine expert witnesses. Naturally, it is not possible to become “pros” in this area right way. It takes practice, but this information may give you some hints on how you may proceed. At least, hopefully, you may have a better understanding of conclusions stated in crime laboratory reports.
What do terms like “match,” “similar to,” “the same as,” “identical,” and a host of other vague terms that try to related a known to an unknown actually mean? What does the expert mean when he reports interpreting crime lab reports.
The Mythology of Arson Investigation
This paper explores the development and promulgation of the mythology of arson investigation. Certainly, there is no reason to believe that anyone ever set out to promulgate something that was not true. It is likely that many myths came about as a result of unwarranted generalizations. For example, an investigator might observe a pattern of spelling around the remains of a gasoline container and make an association of gasoline with spelling. The next time that spelling is observed, gasoline is inferred. Full paper.
FROM THE RESEARCH DESK...
Diana Botluk, J.D., Director of Research:
Visit the NCSTL's Selected Books Added to the NCSTL Collection in the Stetson Library and the NCSTL's Special Collections. Borrow from the collections.
TECHNOLOGY AND DISTANCE EDUCATION NEWS
Susan Zucker, Ph.D., Director Technology & Distance Education and Publisher and Editor of It's Evident
NCSTL in partnership with The Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) at the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service released an innovative online course Locating, Evaluating and Selecting Expert Witnesses in August, 2015.
The course has been approved for 3.5 General CLE credits and .5 CLE Ethics credits, 3.5 P.O.S.T. credits for law enforcement professionals, and 1 American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) recertification credit. The course uses video clips in addition to lecture and PowerPoint to deliver an engaging type of CLE/CE. The course also demonstrates how the NCSTL database, which has over one million visitors from over 170 countries, may be used for research in scientific evidence. CE credits for law enforcement professionals and forensic science board certifying specialties are pending.
The course focuses on:
Register for the course.
- Factors that influence the selection of an expert
- The importance of investigating an expert's credentials
- How to make an informed decision of an expert's credibility
- Legal standards of admissibility of scientific evidence
- Attorney's ethics in dealing with experts
Both the NCSTL and LEIC are recipients of the prestigious August Vollmer Excellence in Forensic Science Award for Innovation in Forensic Technology (2010 and 2007 respectively) from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Our two organizations have collectively trained over 43,500 lawyers, judges, law enforcement professionals, and forensic scientists.
The Course Leader, Professor Carol Henderson, is the founding director of the NCSTL, a Professor of Law at Stetson, and is recognized as an international authority on forensic science and law.
Currently, NCSTL-LEIC is being funded by BJA to develop and deliver (2) in-person trainings and (8) webinars in 2016-2017 to teach capital litigators nationwide how to most effectively use forensics in their cases.
Become NCSTL's fan on Facebook and a follower on Twitter.