Friday, August 26, 2011

The Australian: Forensic science in the dock

Hantu Laut

Forensic science and DNA analysis are not yet a perfect science, there are many grey areas and many of the so called experts in Australia are not truly competent to give foolproof analysis of DNA samples let alone our Malaysian expert who had been criticised by the foreign experts.A mistake or carelessness would have sent an innocent man to prison or worse the gallows.

With the ongoing Anwar's sodomy trail the debate on DNA and forensic science is heating up in court with foreign and local experts and solicitors from both sides slugging out in the court room.

Below is a report which incidentally mentioned one of the Australian experts in the Anwar's sodomy trail, the well known and hypercritical Dr Brian McDonald.

Forensic science in the dock

The Australian

BRIAN McDonald knows he has few admirers among the forensic scientists at the nation's DNA testing laboratories. "I am the antichrist as far as forensic science is concerned," he says.

The reason is simple. McDonald, an independent DNA consultant and molecular geneticist, has built a career by finding flaws in the test results some of these laboratories have provided for the justice system.

Of the hundreds of tests for DNA (basic genetic cell material) that have been referred to him by defence lawyers, he says, he has found problems in 30 per cent to 50 per cent of them.

Such a high rate of contested test results is one reason there is growing unease among lawyers that, in some cases, DNA evidence alone is sending people to prison.

DNA analysis, when applied correctly, is widely considered the most reliable form of forensic science. But if the problems picked up by McDonald have also been present in even a small proportion of other DNA tests used in court, there is a risk some people in jail are victims of scientific error.

The growing doubts about the evidence of scientific experts is not confined to DNA analysis.

A debate is raging in academic circles about what some lawyers believe is a lax approach by the courts that is exposing juries to "junk science", opinions presented by so-called experts who are unable to explain the scientific methods that helped them reach their conclusions.

Courts in Queensland and the Northern Territory have drawn the line at accepting evidence from people who claim to be experts in forensic odontology, or matching bite marks.

But a recent article in the Criminal Law Journal has unleashed a barrage of criticism at far more established fields of forensic science as well as new areas such as barefoot morphology, or the identification of people from the weight-bearing patterns left by their feet. The authors of that article, who include David Field, director of Bond University's Centre for Forensic Excellence, call for a new approach from the courts to weed out unreliable forensic evidence.

They have urged the courts, before accepting expert evidence, to insist on being told about the known and potential error rates of each field of forensic science.

To bolster their argument, they cite research last year in the US showing the subjective nature of fingerprint matches.

Years after fingerprint experts had made decisions on certain prints, researchers presented them with the same prints and were startled by what happened.

"Two-thirds of the experts made inconsistent decisions; [that is,] they disagreed with themselves," the journal article says.

The same concerns about lack of rigour have been voiced by University of NSW legal academic Gary Edmond, who is a member of the council of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences.

He says fingerprint analysis, like DNA analysis, is at the the better end of forensic science. But he says in some areas forensic science is "over-reaching and sometimes just poking around in the dark".

When asked to nominate disciplines at the worst end of the spectrum, Edmond names bite-mark matching, photograph comparisons and footprint matching.

Similar concerns arose last year in the US when a report for the National Academy of Sciences recommended that court testimony by experts should be grounded in science and should acknowledge areas of uncertainty.Read more.


Anonymous said...

No more junk than our so call experts...

Anonymous said...

There has never been any legal precedent in malaysia's legal history that a rapist or sodomist was convicted on the evidences of dna. In sodomy 1, attempts to introduce dna evidences failed miserably as there was suspicions that it was planted. Umno prosecutors are trying it again in Sodomy 2 since they don't have the hard and cold evidences of sodomy taking place, except the word of Siful.

Most people know that the evidences of the victim is suspect. She/He should not be believed unless corroborated in material particulars since it is easy to allege rape or sodomy and difficult to defend against such accusation. That is why the law requires corroboration.

So if you want to convict a man based on dna evidences, the method and prosedure to identify the dna of the accused must be foolproof. If it ain't, just reject or ignore it and look elsewhere for corroborative evidences. That is what happened in all the rape and sodomy convictions previously. The investigators don't rely on dna evidences. It is not safe and further it could be manufactured or planted as in the anwar's case. Imagine the so-called swab which was purportedly said to be sperm and which was extracted some 50 hrs later after the sodomy was found to be still fresh 90 hours later at the time of examination.

Lastly, there has been no legal history of rape or sodomy cases, where the victim got to see the Pm and Chief Police officer Melaka complaining that she/he had been raped or sodomised and would be raped and sodomized in the future and the PM and Chief Police officer did nothing to prevent the rape or sodomy taking place.

This Anwar case sounds more like a man who says he saw a cow jumping over the moon. Of course some persons for reasons best known to them would believe such a man.

kittykat46 said...

Leaving aside the politics of the Anwar case. DNA evidence is very useful, but police, judges , lawyers, everyone in the justice system must understand that it is limited by human limitations and possible errors.

In practical terms, DNA evidence can serve as one of the facts for the court to consider, but must never be the only fact.

A court must NEVER send someone to jail, or worse, to the gallows, based on DNA evidence alone.

Again, parking aside the politics of the Anwar case.
One of my main objections to the Malaysian DNA Evidence Bill is that it mandates identification based on the DNA databank as conclusive evidence. The Court HAS to accept the DNA evidence as conclusive.

That is Lousy Science, and the best experts in the field cannot swear to that, let alone our Bolehland chemists.

uncertain said...

I agree with the writer science can only prove to a certain level.Now the judge seem to be not satisfied cos the case is favouring Anwar.Sooner they will say call for evidence and make their role play by having actors accusing anwar on that particular day.

ajardunia said...

Do we really care! The majority in Malaysia is tired of the case. Who cares who is in who's anus. What we are really concerned is is the state of our politics, religious freedom and economy. DNA experts dance to who employ them, scientific objectivity is less important.

Anonymous said...

Worry not kittycat. The Malaysian DNA Evidence Bills is not for any tom, dick and harry. It is exclusively for selected person(s).

bumi-non-malay said...

Everything have traces of BABI DNA....blood, serum, sayur, ikan, ayam, itik, kerbau, kambing, biri biri....bila Buat JAIS kat semua binatang??