Ethical Miscount in Forensic Investigations

Introduction

The unethical misconduct in forensic investigations refers to the lack of truthfulness in the conduct of forensics at crime scenes. The integrity of forensics is usually important in assuring justice to the accused persons. Many forensic experts today, tend to tamper with the evidence at the crime scene by lying about the results of forensics or conducting a petty forensic, which ends up negatively for the accused persons. Some of the major kinds of forensic misconducts include improper and exaggerated statistics, false testimonies, as well as fraudulent cases in conducting lab investigations. The current paper seeks to show how forensic misconduct occurs and the way government can tackle it. The main objective of the discourse is to try and provide a solution towards the rising cases of forensic misconduct with the view of ensuring justice to the accused persons.

Meaning of Ethical Misconduct in Forensic Investigations

Ethical misconduct in forensic investigations can only have meaning if we understand the meaning of ethical issues in forensic investigations. Ethics refers to the well-established norms of a particular community, which govern the conduct of members of that particular community (Schneider, 2007). Community may include churches, police, forensic investigators, court officials, etc. It, therefore, means that all forensic investigators operate within the limit of some rules and regulations, behaving in a certain manner when conducting investigations. Forensic investigators play a key role in applying the principles of science in establishing guilt and innocence of suspects before a court of law (Brown, 2014). Members of this fraternity are pivotal to the delivery of justice in the courts of law. Cases, such as rape and murder, for example, could be rendered futile without the investigators’ reports. Since these reports form a part of the expert testimonies, they have a very high value in courts and without them, the cases are nothing. Any forgery or lying in the forensic investigation reports, therefore, would be taken as expert evidence and is, thus, misleading to the court. Ethical rules and standards, therefore, curb this mischief. The rules lay down the ethical standards expected of a forensic investigator, provide a reference point on what constitutes an ethical violation and provide punishment to any person who violates them.

Most Common Types of Unethical Issues in Forensic Investigations

Unethical behaviors in forensic investigations take different modes, depending upon the circumstances of the cases. The most common type of such behavior is the misrepresentation of one’s professional qualifications, warranting the effective conduct of the job (Schneider, 2007). Some investigators voluntarily omit to include very vital information in their forensic report for their selfish interests (Brown, 2014). Giving false testimonies about some planted evidence to defeat the accused’s case in court is yet another example of such actions. Other forms include a biased examination of the crime scene as well, also giving a false account of data or notes. Unethical conduct at the crime scenes, however, extends to many situations and is not limited to the above discussed.

Unethical Conduct of Forensic Investigators at the Crime Scene. An Analysis of the O.J Simpson Case

The O.J Simpsons case provides a detailed example of how evidence can get distorted during investigations. In the case, O.J Simpson had been charged with the murder of Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. There was a need for an expert witness to testify about the blood drop at the crime scene. The testimony, as given by the expert witness, however, was not an accurate one. But what is of essence by the case, the court was the fact that in the handling of the crime scene, the forensic investigator mishandled the evidence. Blood, which was so crucial to the outcome of the case, had improperly overstayed in a hot van for more than three hours, which was improper, as it made it difficult to get the accurate results. Thirdly, the evidence chain missed blood which would fatally paralyze the whole investigation. The last default, also amounting to misconduct in the case, is the fact that forensic experts lied before the court about mishandling the crime scene, which is an offense and a breach of ethical rules governing forensic investigations (Brown, 2014). In the case, out of the forensic workers who came to testify in the case, two were found lying. 

As noted above, the forensic experts are under a duty to tell only the truth and nothing but the truth because their opinion is of high probative value to the court. The expert witnesses assist the court in arriving at an inference, where the court is ill-equipped to make such a conclusion. The distortion of evidence in the O.J Simpsons case, therefore, made the court make a wrong inference based on lying testimonies of expert witnesses (Garrett & Neufeld, 2009). The expectations of any thinking member of the society are that the skilled nature of the expert witnesses should allow them to make proper presentation of evidence, as opposed to the unskilled.  

Cases of Improper Lab Analysis

Faking Lab Analysis Results

A faulty testimony by an expert witness always stem from improper conduct at the crime scene or poor analysis from the lab. In both cases, the person who suffers is the accused person, as there is a likelihood that justice would not prevail (Fisher & Fisher, 2012). In the United States of America, cases of improper lab analysis are on the rise, and this has raised an alarm over the general qualifications of lab analysts. One of the ways in which lab analysts commit ethical misconduct in investigations is through posting the results from which no actual tests had occurred in the labs. In the United States of America, a renowned Lab analyst named Annie Dookhan was vindicated of giving controversial results by basing her inference from guesses, as opposed to performing scientific tests. The errors happened because of a large number of tests she was conducting, as opposed to any average lab analyst. Dookhan has forged about 60,000 of laboratory tests for nine years, where she worked as a lab analyst in a public health lab. Following her misconduct in the improper presentation of results, the United States of America embarked on a mission to review all the cases in which Dookhan conducted an analysis (Grimes, 2015). The results turned out to be shocking, as more than two hundred cases have so far been dropped and the convicted persons set free. When she was arrested to answer to twenty-seven charges, interfering with evidence and justice, it was also discovered that her degree was questionable. The question as to how she managed to get employed as a lab analyst in a government lab remains unanswered. So, apart from the above discussion, pretending to be a lab technician or professional when one does not also amount to a gross forensic misconduct and, therefore, punishable by law.

Tampering with the Tests

In this case, the lab analysts replace the original test materials with false ones. The result is hiding the truth of the test (Garrett & Neufeld, 2009). In one case in Massachusetts, a lab analyst by the name of Sonja Farak had specialized in the change of original tests with counterfeits. On one occasion,

hile the supervisors were doing a checkup, they discovered the mischief. The discovery has enabled the concerned officers to curb the negative effects of the fake results before they could become rampant, like in the case of Dookhan. During the time of the arrests and investigation of Mr. Farak, it was discovered that both Farak Dookhan had started their career from the same institution, something which cast doubt on the qualifications of Farak too. The bottom-line, however, is that the change of original tests with counterfeits results in a forensic investigation misconduct and, therefore, punishable by law.

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Poor Handling of DNA Evidence Especially in Rape Cases

DNA evidence forms a crucial piece of evidence when it comes to cases of rape. The lab analysts, being aware of this, indulge in unethical acts to frustrate these cases, one of the ways in which the DNA evidence tampers with is through the misplacement of envelopes, containing the specimens (Garrett & Neufeld, 2009). Other Lab analysts knowingly ignore to post the results of their tests on the federal website for easy reference. Another way of frustrating DNA evidence is by mixing up of reports and other items from various cases, creating a confusion. The result is a lack of evidence against the accused or the strengthening of the prosecution case, even where there is no case to answer.

Improper Categorizations of Fingerprints

In a review of a crime lab analysis Centre based in Lowa, it was discovered that the analysts labeled the fingerprints unusable even in cases when the fingerprints were valid (Garrett & Neufeld, 2009). Nine of such cases were discovered raising an alarm. In some instances, the incorrect labeling was an act known to the forensic investigators for the mutilation of the results to meet their selfish gains. The worst thing about dealing with fingerprints is that once the original specimen spoils, the chance of success in retesting is rendered futile. It, therefore, means that all the jail sentences that arose from cooked fingerprints will never get reversed, resulting in defeating justice. In law, there has existed an old saying that it is better for one hundred guilty people to set free than for one innocent person to go to prison. The forgery of fingerprints, however, goes against this, as many innocent persons, as send behind bars with no chance of reversing of their cases. To the extent that the improper categorization of fingerprints as either usable or unusable affects, the guilt or innocence of the accused person, such acts amount to forensic investigation misconduct.

Use of Improper Lab Standards to Test DNA

Every laboratory, whether government owned or a private, has rules and regulations governing such labs. Some of the rules and standards governing the manner in which the evidence assessment occurs in the labs are similar in all labs. The laboratories use accepted scientific principles to reach a conclusion or, otherwise, the report will not reach the threshold of evidence in court. In America, however, there has existed a controversy in the FBI labs about whether to use hair test match before eventually embarking on the other DNA tests. The implication of the confusion of the standards to use eventually leads to faking testimonies in court, as the truth disappears. It all started when the FBI hair laboratory analysts stated that they found a match between the crime scene remains and the DNA of the accused persons before the introduction of the hair’s DNA testing. In essence, this means that the Lab analysis was using standards new to the government of the United States of America, and chances were that most accused persons ended up in jail over inaccurate results. It became clear that the lab analysts had exceeded the scope of their analysis in linking up the remains at the crime scene with the hair. The bottom line of the whole issue was that the use of hair in tests, linking an accused to a crime does not present accurate results and, as such, an interference to the justice system in the United States of America.

Lying about Planted Evidence

The integrity of the whole justice system lies in the truth and honesty of witnesses in the presentation of their testimonies. The truth upon which this system hangs is what then makes the testimony of forensic experts vital. In realization of the confidence and trust bestowed upon them by the system, the forensic experts use the opportunity to lie in courts to either save their friends, relatives or get bribes, whatever the case. In some instances, the experts may use the evidence to settle scores with their enemies. The advocates and judges are, therefore, called to be very careful in the scrutiny of the reports and testimony to ensure that the integrity of the whole court system remains uncompromised.

One peculiar case about the falsification of testimony in court is the case of Fred Zain. Zain managed to get employed as a government chemist in America, despite his academic history being so wanting. Zain became one of the most trusted Chemists in America, especially in West Virginia. Many cases were referred to hide prosecution in various cases for analysis. The information, eventually, leaked that in virtually all his years in the profession, Zain engaged in the forgery of reports and in false presentation of results. Faking the forensic reports had become his hobby (Grimes, 2015). It had, however, caught the attention of many prosecutors that Zain forensic investigations gave results with a lot of accuracy, as compared to other chemists in the field something which is false. As a result of his false testimonies, many people fell victims of rapes and murder cases which they never committed. The mess could not get reversed. Zain had worked in several stations, comprising of Texas, West Virginia among other places where he worked as a consultant in matters of forensic evidence. After the discovery of the whole mess in the justice system, various states affected had no option but to compensate the victims. One particular example is the government of West Virginia, which gave out six million, five hundred thousand United States Dollars. The state of Texas, on the other hand, also gave out a compensation, totaling to about eight hundred and fifty thousand United States Dollars to the innocent victims, affected by Zain’s action. Zain, however, has never been brought to record about his injustices, as he died of cancer before his retrial could commence. Falsification of evidence, leading to the incarceration of innocent people, therefore, amounts to forensic misconduct and should never be allowed to occur.

Stealing and Failure to Report Evidence

Another controversial way in which gross ethical miscount in forensics happens is through stealing reports or failing to report the contents of the forensic report to the relevant authorities. This kind of unethical behavior emerges mainly from the FBI officials. The FBI is a credible and respected organization. Its importance reflects the kind of resources that the United States of America pumps towards it to enable it to carry out its work effectively. Some officials of these organization, however, are engaging in theft of evidence meant to incriminate someone in Court. One peculiar circumstance in which it takes places, especially, in cases related to drugs, such as Cocaine and Heroin.

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An FBI agent named Mathew Lowry in America, for example, was caught using heroin stolen from the FBI labs. Lowry had particularly established himself as a drug-related crimes detective (Grimes, 2015). Having come from a religious background and from his record, he had never been found taking any drugs until the opportunity presented itself. During his tenure in office, however, Lowry has managed to spearhead the prosecution of twenty-eight drug related cases. He, however, compromised with some other one hundred and fifty cases of the same caliber, therefore, raising questions about how many drug related criminals had been set free because of his act of concealing evidence. Lowery engaged in corrupt deals to hide evidence, something which is rare in America, though. His arrest arose from failing to submit the Marijuana and guns, acquired from the crime scene, and rather kept it to himself against his code of ethics. From the example, therefore, the concealment of evidence and use of the evidence by Lowry from his own private used injures the justice system, as without evidence no successful criminal can stand. The act of FBI agent’s failure to disclose evidence clearly reflects as a good example of ethical miscount in the conduct of forensic investigations.

Planting of Evidence by Forensic Investigators

One of the ways in which the forensic investigators can plant evidence is through the use of drugs to frame innocent civilians. This kind of operation has been very common in African Countries. In various countries, the police performance is measured by the number of arrests made by a cop. Those who do not meet the arrest target or quota imposed by the government risk losing their jobs on the grounds of being incompetent. The police in responding to this requirement; therefore, take evidence, for example, drugs, from culprits and distribute the evidence to cops at the risk of sacking, which is then used to plant evidence on innocent people for the sake of police saving their jobs. Such kind of operation is unethical, and it goes against the ethical standards set by forensic investigators.

One example of cases of planting evidence is the case of the Brooklyn cops. In 2008 in an operation to save the cops who had not satisfied the quota recommended by the government, engaged in taking drugs from criminals and sharing it amongst other cops (Grimes, 2015). The cops would then plant the evidence on some innocent people caught during their operations in an attempt to cover up their jobs. One of the officers named Steve Anderson, who confessed being part of the scheme, stated how necessary it was to save their jobs, as opposed to the culprits imprisonment. In reviving justice to the innocent convicts, the government released dozens of the affected people and compensated them a sum of one thousand United States Dollars for every hour thy served in jail wrongfully. The police officers also ended tainting themselves because, unlike the innocent people imprisoned, the police were the guilty ones who ought to have faced detention.

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