Questioning Forensics

Photo by David Handschuh

The Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit held its fourth annual Questioning Forensics conference at the New York City Bar Association on November 1 and 2. This year’s Questioning Forensics, Lawyers, Damn Lawyers & Statistics, centered on the use and misuse of statistics in the courtroom, with a particular focus on how statistical software programs are used to interpret complex DNA mixtures. Two hundred defenders from California to Minnesota to upstate New York and all five Legal Aid trial offices tackled such topics as probabilistic genotyping software and its limits, erroneous and misleading probabilities at trial, how to present data at trial in a compelling and easily comprehensible way, and the use of trade secrets to shield disclosure of source code to the defense.

Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr., world-renowned physicist and former member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, delivered keynote, Exploring Mathematics, Energy, Matter, Space & Time in Contrast to Forensic Science. His opening remarks contrasted the foundations of his field of expertise, physics, with the foundations of the forensics sciences. He stressed the need to evaluate the scientific foundations of a method and its limits, and how the method accounts for uncertainty.

Judge Pamela King received the 2018 Magnus Mukoro Award for Integrity in Forensic Science for her longstanding work educating the criminal justice community about forensic science. A former Commissioner with the National Commission on Forensic Science and current Fellow with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Judge King is District Court Judge in Olmstead County, Minnesota. The DNA Unit’s own Terri Rosenblatt and Allison Lewis provided defenders with the building blocks of a successful cross examination and other challenges to evidence produced with STRmix, the software program used to interpret complex DNA mixtures around the world.

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