As part of UK Visa procedures, I had to provide my biometric details. They had found my finger prints on a phone book and concluded that I must have done the robbery. They had no other evidence, they hadn't done any background checks or found a motive. The phone book was one of the ones my mom was distributing in her small van. I had helped her loading them up the van. I explained this, they checked with the distribution company and I was freed. But the thought that I had been incredibly lucky to have an explanation never left me. Just imagine a situation like this, maybe you go into a shop, pick up an item and put it back. Someone somewhere gets killed and your forensic information is left on an item in the murder scene.
What happened to this guy is terrifying. And I'm sure there are thousands of innocent people in jails because since the introduction of forensics, law enforcements and the courts have become too lazy to analyse the situation. "Evidence is there, must be guilty" mentality.
Considering the number of fingers that may have touched a telephone book during its manufacture and distribution (surely the cops have phone books and knew they weren't sent in the post, or if they had found a post worker's fingerprints on a piece of mail they wouldn't have arrested the postal worker) it seems to me that they may have been reckless in their conclusion.
In a Sherlock Holmes story, the protagonist uses forensic evidence but he thinks about what the evidence means.
The police, on the other hand, want a magic oracle device that spits out names and current addresses, and they treat forensics like it was such.
In the United States, having a valid explanation for why your fingerprints were on some object wouldn't necessarily get you freed, it wouldn't necessarily prevent prosecution. Some asshole DAs here would take that to trial (or extort you into a plea bargain, at least).
someone to get arrested so it looks like they are doing a good job so the chief gets off their back, the chief wants this because re-election is coming soon and doesn't want to look weak on crime. Neither one of them can go pick up some random black guy for the crime any longer without too much media attention so 'forensic' evidence is what they try to use today.
Fortunately, I had a tail light out -- not a brake light, just the ones that idle on when the car is running. When he asked "do you know why I pulled you over?" I said "Because I have this tail light out: but the brake lights are fine, I have this appointment to fix them tomorrow, and here is this warning that this other officer gave me about the problem, which clearly says that it has to be fixed by the end of the week."
He said out-right "no, that's not why I pulled you over, you ran that stop sign," and I said, "no, I came to a complete stop, I always do, it's one of those disciplines I have that really annoys my girlfriend..." and such. Probably I shouldn't have even tried to argue it? But I did.
In the end, he came back with a ticket for "driving a defective vehicle" -- because the tail light was out, and despite the fact that he should have ideally deferred to the earlier warning. I asked him about it and he said, "you didn't fix it fast enough!" brusquely. Probably he wanted to lean on my immediate statement of "this is broken but I am fixing it tomorrow" in any trial, like, "he immediately confessed to the crime."
This turn of events was quite fortunate as when the county prosecutor saw both pieces of paper side-by-side (the warning, "fix by the 9th", and the ticket issued on the 7th, or whatever), she agreed to drop the case before it went to trial. (I had also been told by a police clerk that the judge was pretty lenient about traffic violations, so that may have also been in her mind.)
Apropos of anything else - you DID cut him off, and you did fail to yield (Stop signs are also Yields). His argument about you running the stop sign is invalid, sure, if you were at a complete stop, but if you're forcing someone who did not have to yield to, by your own words, 'slow way down' to match you pulling out in front of them, then you were in the wrong.
I don't think I 'failed to yield' to him because I exited the intersection before he entered it: he only really had to slow down once he got into the road I was in. But had he given me a ticket for that, I might have just taken responsibility and paid the fine. I mean, I think I could plausibly argue the case in court because I "made it" well ahead of him. But then again, he may have started slowing down much sooner, and it could be a thorny argument.
What interested me most about it at the time was: it was a 3-way T-shaped intersection formed by taking a 4-way intersection and blocking off the North end with construction work. So the North-South road had no signs, but the general rule for such intersections (and I think it's explicitly written down in most states, but I'm not sure) would be that the South traffic has to yield to East/West traffic: in other words, in combination with the East/West stop signs, I think the law-books would imply that the road should have implicitly become an all-way stop.
That's precisely why he asked the question in the first place. Never admit to anything.
A few years ago, I got a ticket for driving with an expired inspection sticker. I knew it was expired and it was my fault so I wasn't going to try to argue my way out of it but when the officer asked if I knew why he pulled me over, I said "I have a pretty good idea, officer but I'm not going to say it out loud."
Prosecutor: In Officer Wiggum's evidence he stated that you said you had a
"pretty good idea" why he pulled you over. Is that correct?
You: I guess.
Prosecutor: And what was that idea?
All of that is moot. Where I live, there's no prosecutor involved for traffic tickets.
I think we all want tools that help us do our jobs quickly and more reliably. Forensic science is, in aggregate, a tool for discovering what's true. Improvements in forensic science are, on balance, a net positive.
In the United States, nothing prevents prosecution. The state can bring whatever charges it wants. The bulwarks of our freedom are in the courts, the ballot box, and in the enumerated Bill of Rights.
It's the jury of our peers and a speedy trial that check the ability of prosecutors to do us individual harm. As a society, it's our power at the ballot box that determines who we admit into the job of prosecution.
I can't help but feel there's something vital missing from police, DA, etc training. I'm reminded very distinctly of my ethics class (which was required for graduation), where we were told the horror story of the THERAC-25. Even now, when I work on software for the military, I am very conscious of what my decisions may cost. Why aren't police, judges, district attorneys and forensic scientists required to take classes that tell them of stories like this one? I feel that juries aren't enough, especially when they are surrounded by those with much more experience and comfort in the courtroom.
This could be selection bias at work. Perhaps you terminate conversations with less intelligent officers earlier, without realising the reason you do so. So, these less intelligent ones are forgotten, or removed from your sample because the conversation was not long enough to find strong evidence about intelligence.
No. He's just poor at judging intelligence, like everyone else.
If they are polite and don't raise their voice and there are no obvious deficiencies in their vocabulary or pronunciation, and they seem to be minimally informed on current events and trends, you couldn't tell an idiot from a genius. You have no ability to see their thought processes, and you've never really bothered to try to infer them.
Studies even suggest you don't know what's going on in your own brain either. This despite the fact that you are actually privy to at least some of your own thought process.
The citations will probably be helpful for you to find the studies and similar ones.
Why did we think we dreamed in black and white?
How well do we know our own conscious experience? The case of human echolocation.
edit: here's an interview - http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-splintered-skeptic/
So yeh. There are no limits and no meaningful rules as to what they can and will do. Certainly many feel no moral or ethical constraints on their actions.
You mentioned that you felt lucky; sad to say, I think you're probably right. What a nightmare of an experience.
Never talk to police without a lawyer is good advice, but that advice literally translates to "Never talk to police without paying someone $300 per hour to do it." Meanwhile, police, at no additional cost to themselves, can essentially compel you to talk to them any time they want. So it's pretty easy to push people around with that dynamic, yet most people I talk to seem to bury their head in the sand on the issue.
I'm reminded of:
George Aaronow: When I talk to the police I get nervous.
Ricky Roma: Yes. You know who doesn't?
George Aaronow: Who?
Ricky Roma: Thieves.
So I suspect that finding one good print and extrapolating a suspect from it is probably pretty common. Flawed obviously, but common.
That's why such evidence is supposed to be supportive of a larger case. Of course there will be a fingerprint on almost any given item. If you have a complete biometric database of every person in the country you will be able to match it, but that doesn't mean anything at all. If the person matched happens to be local it still doesn't mean anything by itself. In this case there was a plausible innocent explanation of how it got there, but in most cases people won't know how they spread their prints or DNA.
This is exactly how the legal system in the UK works - you arrest people at a relatively low burden of proof, and that gives you the power to detain them for a few hours while you question them, search for evidence, etc. You can't do any of that if you go over and "ask"
Don't ever talk to police. DON'T EVER TALK TO POLICE.
Call a lawyer and allow him to explain the mistake. There's just as much chance that the police could have used your explanation against you if they thought you were lying and you would be in jail right now, wrongfully convicted because you misremembered a small detail in your story.
DON'T EVER TALK TO POLICE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPLICITLY CHARGED WITH A CRIME.
Everyone who does so feels it's justified, but the effect is always obnoxious and it never conveys more information or meaning, only an insistence that the commenter is especially important and needs to be paid attention to.
Soon, everyone will be able to contribute to unkilling good comments, so fixing these will no longer block on moderator attention. In the future, though, everyone: please send issues like this to email@example.com. It's too random whether we'll see it on HN itself! Not to mention off topic.
Better yet, spend 30 minutes on that exercise now, rather than when you're stuck in the situation for real.
This video explains perfectly why even if you are innocent, you should not talk to the police.
Might want to edit your post.
When i did jury duty, probably about a third of the charges i heard were pretty obviously groundless.
The problem we have is when the investigating officer gets focused on a suspect thanks to forensic evidence to the exclusion of other suspects. The CSI effect is real and strong, in reality in many cases there is little to no useful forensic evidence at all.
Unless you're been arrested for a very serious crime, in which case you're going to be defended for free by a very experienced QC who will tear apart dodgy process, you are likely to be arrested for a handful of hours. The exceptions would be being held overnight, if you're drunk/high and thus incapable of being interviewed etc.
Things are slightly different in Scotland where you get detained not arrested, but the principles are broadly the same. UK policing as a whole has been through periods of dodgy processes and huge reforms in the wake of them. There are likely to be very few criminal justice systems in the world I'd rather interact with than the UK one, especially if I were accused of a serious crime.
Edit to add - plus the premise of "fishing" implies there is no existing evidence. The initial justifications for the arrest have to be supplied at the start, and "it might have been him" won't pass muster.
I'm not sure where you get that from. I would assume you fish where you expect to find something, and my interpretation of the many places "fishing" is used (or even "phishing" to a lesser degree), is that it's done where you expect some payoff. Maybe you're thinking of the phrase "he's just fishing", which while often used by people to describe someone searching for something, often fruitlessly, generally the person searching is doing it with the expectation they will find something.
Fishing is where you pick someone first, then go looking for evidence of any crime.
That's two different things.
Seems the system worked in your case. You had a plausible reason for the existence of your fingerprint at the scene of the crime. I would imagine they also ran your background information without bothering to inform you and regular police officers don't care about motive. Detectives do when investigating a case but street cops showing up at your door (assuming that's what happened) probably don't. You apparently didn't even have to go to court to explain all this and be set free.
Curious, do you know if they caught who actually committed the robbery?
Pretty much only DNA analysis rises above shamanism, and juries and judges have incorrect perceptions about the accuracy of those tests. While the often-quoted false random match probability is astronomically low, that error rate is dominated by lab error, which can rise to 1-2%.
As an aside, the Innocence Project has a better description of the details of what happened: http://www.innocenceproject.org/cases-false-imprisonment/kir...
 See also: http://lst.law.asu.edu/FS09/pdfs/Koehler4_3.pdf.
In essence, FBI and other "experts" have frequently attested to partial matches being reliable when they're pretty much subjective. Similarly, the FBI would claim matches based on far fewer points than other countries deem acceptable.
Meanwhile, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony is legion, and it falsely convicts more people than anything else.
If it's justified for machine learning for ad systems, I fancy that sort of check is justified for justice, too.
This story elucidates a lot of problems: Poor standards on the part of the FBI for determining what kind of test produces accurate results, poor scientific literacy and critical thinking skills on the part of the jury, a belief in forensic technology that treats it as basically voodoo magic.
But what strikes me as most problematic is that it seems like people in this story, prosecutors, the investigator, etc., simply need to convict someone more than they need to find the truth, and face no consequences for getting it wrong, even though it ruins lives in a really serious way.
Whether it's a systemic career incentive or simply confirmation bias for the first suspect they get combined a desire to see "justice served", something about the way crimes are prosecuted is horribly broken, and bad science being used to justify locking people up is just a symptom.
It is much simpler than admitting that performance in a job is a multi-faceted thing and cannot be dumbed down to a single number...
Your view may or may not be in the minority, but even if it isn't that doesn't make it correct, just popular.
Fortunately, I am paid a salary. If I get jury duty, I still get paid. I wouldn't try to avoid it for financial reasons.
The state has the power to take someone's freedom, their assets and their life. The only mitigation of this is the jury. Never cede that power to anyone for any reason.
1) They ask you during selection, while under oath, questions which amount do "are you aware of jury nullification, and/or, are you willing to apply the law"
2) You lie, and answer those questions with the answers they want, and get selected.
3) You refuse to convict, despite overwhelming evidence, because you're into the idea of nullification.
4) They somehow prove that you lied during step 2, while under oath.
How that 4th one works, I don't know. Does anybody have any examples of it happening?
But I am not citizen and never been juror or witnessed one :) just read some wiki pages.
For instance something like, "Are you willing to carry out the law as it is written?" or "Are you willing to decide this case based on the facts presented to you." or something else to that effect. If you know of and believe in jury nullification, the honest answer to those questions is "No." That might not be exactly what they ask, but I think it's something like that at least.
>Are you willing to carry out the law as it is written?
Yes. As written, I can deliver whatever verdict I want and the law says I cannot be prosecuted for it.
>Are you willing to decide this case based on the facts presented to you
Yes. With the facts given to me, I choose not to convict this person.
If you believe the law or case to be unjust then convince your fellow jurors by poking holes in the case, or if need be just vote to acquit and refuse to explain why.
Or are there cases where the whole jury comes back with "not guilty", and a mistrial is declared because they didn't say "guilty"?
> "If you decide that you don't want to do that and lie to get on the jury anyway, you've wasted everybody's time because you felt like being a jerk. Way to go, hero."
Arguably wasting everybody's time is a form of civil protest. If every drug charge went through several mistrials before they managed to obtain a conviction, then DA's might be more hesitant to bring less egregious cases to trial.
Do you think that the act of nullification in general makes you a jerk? Or only when used in certain circumstances? Were Northerners who nullified for escaped slaves being jerks?
The consequence for you is a few days spent feeling like a hero. The consequences for others can be much greater.
Second - you don't have to lie. If you put for yourself the beyond reasonable doubt bar in nonviolent drug crime to be 1/10^14 who is there to disprove you.
With 7000000000 people on earth and creative misinterpretation of the Bayesian statistics you could be totally right for yourself.
Agreed. It sounds like a lot of prosecutors do so, and the FBI labs people certainly did.
At worst this is a 1% error rate, at best 0.1%. Scientific validity aside, I find it unbelievable this was not considered reasonable doubt.
If those 1000 pairs of hairs really were from different, randomly choosen people. But we don't know the quality of that sample. Maybe the examiner looked at 1000 pairs of hairs, 10 looked similar to him and those 10 were from different heads, while the 990 that looked different were from the same head. That would give an error rate of 100%.
Even if we assume there were no errors in the sample, then we still don't know anything about the correlation between the judgement of the examiner and reality. Maybe he randomly considers one in 100 pairs of hairs to look similar. So while yes, the error rate would be 1%, his judgement would have absolutely no informative value. It would be as good as throwing dice.
Whilst DNA evidence has subsequently exonerated him, there were pretty good reasons for the jury at the time to consider the case proven beyond reasonable doubt that didn't involve placing too much faith in dubious "expert witness" testimony about hairs.
It's possible the jury wouldn't have convicted him on eye witness testimony alone, but the fact that the physical "scientific" evidence agreed made it seem more legitimate.
There are good grounds to be somewhat suspicious of forensic evidence; however, my understanding is that technical evidence like this is usually far, far more reliable than e.g. eyewitness statements. Those are horribly unreliable, and experienced investigators (or should we say "investigators") are able to convince their witnesses of having seen things that did not really happen at all.
Though since they've had DNA techniques sufficient to overturn the expert witness evidence for rather a long time now it's surprising it took this long to overturn.
This is how I understand it now. It's not that he says that he compares one hair to those 1000, and then still was sure to be able to keep them apart. That was how I first read it.
For a good comparison, he should have used a line-up. Take one hair from 100 persons with similar hair color and use that as test sample. If he was still able to tell which was from the same person, he would have a case.
The problem is courts often misapply statistics. Prosecutors will often say in a case like this that there is a 100:1 chance that he did it because of the error rate.
But they aren't applying Bayes Theorem.
I was astounded to learn how widely the Polygraph is used in the US, despite it being described as only about "90% reliable" by its proponents!
1) The polygraph is a pretty decent prop. At least some people become more truthful, or at least worse liars, when they believe lie detection is happening.
2) Even if the truth of something cannot be ascertained at the time, if it ever comes out later, you have a very simple path to firing/imprisoning/otherwise destroying the person: they lied to a federal agent. This is a sigificantly easier bar to clear than actually proving they committed a crime. For this the polygraph is not actually important, but the interview itself is.
A federal agent can be trained to detect lies, and therefore function as a lie detector. The polygraph is superfluous.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the polygraph is often just cover for implementing an arbitrary hiring process based upon the feelings of the interviewer. For example, let's say you're hiring police officers, let's also say that you're also a bit of a racist, now you can reject women and minorities and still have an "objectively fair" hiring process, since every candidate had to undergo the same process.
Basically using polygraphs lets LE continue to hire meatheads. When one of them ends up on the news for acting like a meathead they wave their hands and bluster about "strict hiring practices", and that's the end of it.
We can make up things about racist police hiring, but that's not the same as facts.
>We can make up things about racist police hiring, but that's not the same as facts.
Yeah, I was just kidding, there are probably no racists running police departments. I mean, what are the odds?
If a polygraph is misused, that's sad and wrong. But it can also be used as an interview technique, to put folks under pressure and get more authentic answers to important questions. Maybe its all psychological, but that's fine. As long as it helps screen, and does more good than harm.
The polygraph is a confidence game. It is 100% psychological. If you're honest and you try hard, you'll still harm some people arbitrarily. It has immense potential for abuse though, and I would reject its use for that reason; even if it didn't suffer from the other problem.
And if the polygraph operator is independent, then abuse would have to be systematic somehow. Which may not be a lot different from any other interview technique.
The "bad guys" know that the polygraph is nearly worthless. They know what's theatre and what's not. So you don't apply any pressure to them. They know that placating you with your pat questions is the solution and they calmly work toward that. So your chance of success against anyone "worth worrying about" is nearly zero.
But the people who will crack, and probably have a nearly unending closet of real and semi-real stories, are the innocent people. This isn't just collateral damage, but now you're wasting time investigating people who are almost certainly not the bad guys. And reducing your labor pool...
Its a terrible process, only a little better than everything else that's been tried.
If you are saying it is the US, I'm not seeing what evidence you've offered that suggests that to be true. It just seems an odd statement to make without supporting evidence.
> about the nationwide inquiry that is under way into the FBI’s use of hair analysis: “It’s all a bunch of baloney,” he said. “It’s all a bunch of poppycock.
His bosses too.
> A senior manager from the FBI laboratory, Harold Deadman, told his global partners: “We are believers in hair comparisons.”
They are BELIEVERS. You can't challenge men of faith.
Edit: And it's too bad that civil suits aren't an option.
For convenience, here is a quote from the article, describing what the expert said:
Having performed thousands of similar hair examinations
over the previous 10 years, the FBI agent told the court,
there had been only eight or 10 times when hairs from two
different people were so similar that he could not tell
them apart – suggesting the firm probability that the
rapist’s hair and Odom’s hair had come from the same scalp.
suggesting the firm probability that the
rapist’s hair and Odom’s hair had come from the same scalp.
But in addition it's worth asking about those thousands of experiments. Did he really perform the experiments? What was the methodology? And if the experiments were organized so that they obviously do _not_ support his conclusion, then it's an additional evidence of lie - he knew these experiments do not suggest any firm probability.
Also, was he instructed by his superiors to testify in that form?
I do get that it's hard to prove perjury by expert witnesses. They're allowed to testify about their opinions. Witnesses can otherwise only testify about "facts". Those are arguably opinions too, about what they remember, but that's another matter. Anyway, I believe that expert witnesses are safe, as long as they don't lie about "facts".
But they should still be tried. Maybe for conspiracy or whatever. Even for following orders without disclosing that fact. Get some smart prosecutors on it.
For example, somebody uploaded an image promoting inter-racial hate. I'am invited to the court as an expert, and asked "Here is the HTTPS log with the IP address of the defendant, his client certificate (he authorized with client certificate). Does it prove that the defendant uploaded this image?".
And I testify: HTTPS is secure hyper TEXT transfer protocol, but we have an image here, not text. Image can not be uploaded with hyper TEXT transfer protocol.
Is it a perjury?
But for expert opinions that involve substantial interpretation of evidence, it's hard enough to exclude under the Daubert standard, let alone to make a case for perjury.
But I understand the difficulties, it's a subtle issue. I even admit it could be just ignorance of the "expert",
without intentions - just and accident.
I do not pretend to provide a correct and well formulated accusation, I mean there are ways to explore. It would of course require time and efforts (collect facts, speak with the ex-prisoner, reading the case materials, questioning the "expert").
Did the "expert" have motives? Was he instructed by superiors how to testify?
Did he really perform those thousands of tests - according to the article this phrase was
a common cliche circulating between FBI agents, so probably he didn't really perform the experiments.
There might be facts allowing to differentiate this case either as a intended pejury, criminal negligence or an accident.
BTW, another surprising thing in this article is how little care the court gives to the fate of this guy. They were just told about 8 to 10 cases when similar hairs were from different people, and nevertheless sentenced the guy without any other reliable evidence.
I see this as being just as much about the power of police officers to steer an investigation, regardless of where the evidence points as it is about the reliance on pseudoscience and the CSI effect.
People should very much remember their rights and the distinction between being detained and "voluntarily" cooperating.
The reason why libertarians get made fun of is because they just keep shouting the same thing over and over, even after an answer in the affirmative has been given ("Am I being detained?" "Yes" "Am I being detained?"). They sound like a toddler who thinks they have a get out of jail/trouble free card if they just keep shouting the same phase over and over.
But, sure, teach people their rights and their right to remain silent (and to have a lawyer). But also remind them that shouting some phase over and over again doesn't provide them legal cover or help situations de-escalate. And, yes, they will be made fun of for acting like an idiot.
The questions are repeated when a noncommittal response is given or when the answer is incongruous with the behavior of the officer(s). For example "I just want to ask you some questions." or "No, you're not being detained. Can you come over here and let me ask you some questions?"
It's done, not because of some belief that it will allow the guilty to go free but because they want to expose the coercive nature of certain police interactions.
Am I being detained? Am I free to go? Am I under arrest?
Police officers only have to give the Miranda warning when someone has been arrested. Any statements made before an arrest are assumed to be voluntary. If an officer has probable cause, they're going to arrest you. Making it clear that you have no interest in cooperating is in your best interest.
There is one phrase that can be stated that does give some legal cover, depending on circumstance. "I do not consent to any searches" will require an officer to prove that he had reasonable suspicion or probable cause to conduct a search as he or she will not be able to claim that the search was with the consent of the suspect.
From what I've seen, that is more a sovereign citizen thing.
People make fun of libertarians for things that sovereigns and anarchists say, because hey, why not? Politics is dirty; if the shit sticks, throw it.
Hopefully now all other forensic techniques are going to be heavily scrutinized as it should be. It can be a great tool but it should be carefully used.
But people who are genetically related are not randomly distributed.
Don't all of us?
Beyond salvation? Clearly a large number of people at the FBI need to be in jail for breaking very serious laws.
Falsifying evidence "to get convinctions" of the innocent. Yeah. Anyone doing that need to defending their actions in court as the accused.
Here is another sad story of a man put to death based on pseudoscience
There is also the partial print of the Madrid bomber fiasco... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Mayfield
Did he heck.