Articles Posted in Forensics

Two recent decisions of  CAAF condone unlawful or bad practices when OSI, CID, NCIS, and CGIS search cellphones; United States v. Shields and United States v. Lattin. As a result, the MCIOs are unlikely to change their unlawful or bad practices. More than sloppy police work gets two passes because the military appellate courts think suppression of evidence won’t change that behavior–and the accused is a bad person. Military defense lawyers need to be fully aware of the issues whenever evidence from an accused’s cellphone comes up in evidence.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches of our property, including cell phones. In Riley, the Supreme Court properly required a search warrant for (CID, OSI, CGIS, and NCIS) intrusions into seized cellphones. The court has acknowledged that people have a privacy right against Government intrusion without a warrant based on probable cause. As we know, there is an awful lot of personal data that is kept on the cellphone, and that can be retrieved with forensic tools.

In Lattin, the issue was a fishing expedition through the Appellant’s cellphone. The trial transcript shows that the OSI agent believed she had the right to search everything in the cellphone because it had been seized after the execution of a commander’s search and seizure authorization. With that general warrant concept in her mind she scrolled through a lot of information on the Appellant’s phone that wasn’t related to the reason for the search in the beginning. The OSI agent did not believe there were any limits based on her training and experience. Both the AFCCA and CAAF have ruled that the search was unlawful but that it was excused because there would be no future deterrent effect to OSI committing further unlawful searches. The court partly relied on Mil. R. Evid. 311, which wrongly summarizes the law post-Herring that was reinforced in Davis.

My argument is no, and as military defense lawyers, this is our position at a court-martial trial held under the UCMJ.

In State v. Terrance Police, 2022 Conn. LEXIS 123 (May 10, 2022), the issue was whether “touch DNA” was good enough for probable cause to get an arrest warrant. Here is the important part of the decision saying it wasn’t.

[T]he DNA evidence used to describe the suspect was not a single source sample known to have come from the perpetrator. Rather, it was “touch DNA,” also known as “trace DNA,” from multiple sources that might or might not have come from the perpetrator—something the police simply had no way of knowing when they applied for the John Doe arrest warrant. Notably, the state has not identified a single case, and our research has failed to uncover one, in which mixed partial DNA profiles from touch DNA provided the description of a suspect in a John Doe arrest warrant. Touch DNA “is a term used to describe DNA that is left behind just by touching an object …. Notwithstanding its name, however, touch DNA does not necessarily indicate a person’s direct contact with the object. Rather, according to [experts], abandoned skin cells, which make up touch DNA, can be left behind through primary transfer, secondary transfer, or aerosolization.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Dawson, 340 Conn. 136, 153, 263 A.3d 779 (2021). Even when a person touches an object, “DNA is not always detectable, meaning that it is possible to have someone touch an object but not leave behind detectable DNA because … some people leave more of their skin cells behind than others, i.e., some people are better ‘shedders’ of their DNA than others. There are also other factors that affect the amount of DNA left on an object, such as the length of contact, the roughness or smoothness of the surface, the type of contact, the existence or nonexistence of fluids, such as sweat, and degradation on the object.” Id., 154. 

From friend BW.

State commission calls blood-spatter testimony in murder case ‘not … scientifically supported’ By Pamela Colloff, ProPublica, July 24, 201

 An influential state commission said the blood-spatter analysis used to convict a former Texas high school principal of murdering his wife in 1985 was “not accurate or scientifically supported” and the expert who testified was “entirely wrong.” The findings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a national leader in forensic science reform, called into question the conviction of Joe Bryan, who has now spent more than 30 years in prison. Bryan was the subject of a two-part investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine in May that questioned the accuracy of the bloodstain pattern analysis used to convict Bryan, as well as the training of the experts who testify in such cases.

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