Thursday, July 4, 2013

Forensic Fraud: Evaluating Law Enforcement and Forensic Science Cultures in the Context of Examiner Misconduct

This textbook presents original research that examines and correlates the traits of fraudulent forensic examiners, their fraud-related activity, and their places of employment.1 To ensure timeliness and provide for comparability, this research is limited in scope to those cases revealed in the United States from 2000 to 2010. It is a study that seeks to inform and add to our theoretical understanding of a specific yet influential strain of employee fraud in the criminal justice system. Based on the findings of this study, potential causal factors are identified and discussed. Subsequently, relevant fraud management strategies are proposed.

The events that have accumulated over the course of this author’s career to confirm the need for this work, and to provide sufficient motivation for its completion, are numerous and ongoing. 

The earliest took place immediately after the completion of this author’s graduate studies in forensic science in 1995: a research paper that had been placed online was taken in its entirety and presented elsewhere under the name of another. Upon discovery and further investigation, it was learned that the person responsible, a forensic psychologist, was no stranger to fraud. Then the Chair of the Forensic Science program at National University in San Diego, California, it was learned that the plagiarist had purloined the research of others in at least one Canadian journal. He had also been accused of misrepresenting the nature of his relationship with the Orange County Coroner’s Office by means of printing up misleading business cards. Further still, his professional resume was full of incomplete and misleading information and affiliations.

Ultimately, and subsequent to a complaint filed by this researcher, this individual was forced to resign his membership with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and contemporaneously ceased to be the Chair of the Forensic Science program at National University. That someone would do these things so openly, let alone a professional of apparent high standing in the forensic science community, and that nobody had complained about it in writing save a recently graduated student of forensic science, left an impression.

Over the past 17 years of forensic practice, this author has observed or learned of countless instances of unrepentant forensic fraud by practitioners from all over the United States, and around the world. A severe outcome, with proven fraudsters stripped of their employment, penalized by their respective professional organizations, and criminally charged is not at all typical. Often fraud is minimized, ignored, or in extreme cases simply denied by those in the forensic science community. 

For example, Budowle (2007), speaking for the FBI crime laboratory, insists that “most people do good jobs,” that forensic fraud is not a significant issue, and that any problems are “most often human error”; Collins and Jarvis (2007), speaking for an organization formed by those associated with the American Society of Crime Lab Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB), similarly assert that “Forensic scientists are human beings. As such they will sometimes make mistakes and, in some very rare instances, push the boundaries of ethical behavior”; and, in response to multiple and ongoing scandals involving examiner fraud since 2005 at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL), the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which oversees the lab, has conceded only that “As with all crime labs across the county, human error does occur from time to time” (Taylor and Doyle)—in essence ignoring the issue of fraud altogether.

Many leaders in the forensic science community, it seems, are content to explain fraudulent examiners away, or deny their existence, despite continuous and sometimes overwhelming evidence of the problem...

Different from that of many forensic science stakeholders, this author’s perspective has been enhanced by at least the following major events in the forensic science community over the past ten years:

1. The ongoing and in some cases repeated instances of major crime lab scandal, to include multiple instances of fraud and error, over the past 15 years (see general discussions in Cooley, 2004, 2007a, and 2007b; DiFonzo, 2005; DiFonzo and Stern, 2007; Giannelli, 2010; and Thompson, 2009).

2. The publication of the National Academy of Sciences Report on forensic science (aka the NAS Report; Edwards and Gotsonis, 2009). The NAS Report was a congressionally funded system-wide investigation and review of the forensic science disciplines and related forensic laboratory practice. It was initiated by the United States Congress owing to the publication of an ongoing series of critical legal reviews regarding the evident bias and lack of science in forensic practice; the ongoing occurrence of highly publicized forensic frauds, blunders, and forensic laboratory scandals across the United States; and the ever-increasing number of DNA exonerations sourced back to flawed or misleading forensic evidence documented by groups such as the Innocence Project (see; see also Garrett, 2008; and Garrett and Neufeld, 2009). 

The NAS Report confirmed the lack of scientific foundation for the majority of forensic science methods, and an inappropriate alignment between forensic scientists and their law enforcement employers. It also recognized the lack of empirical research into the nature and causes of forensic fraud and error.

3. The publication of Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997–2009 by the Northern California Innocence Project (Ridolphi and Possley, 2010). This landmark study of the largest criminal justice system in the United States (California) found prosecutorial misconduct more common than previously thought, including that related to suppressing or misrepresenting physical evidence. It also found that when harmful misconduct does occur (p. 3) “those empowered to address the problem—California state and federal courts, prosecutors and the California State Bar—repeatedly fail to take meaningful action. Courts fail to report prosecutorial misconduct (despite having a statutory obligation to do so), prosecutors deny that it occurred, and the California State Bar almost never disciplines it.” This is clearly related to, and not surprisingly similar to, the problems faced in the forensic science community regarding forensic fraud.

These experiences and events, augmented by ongoing myriad professional encounters with fraudulent examiners as part of regular casework, have provided a durable source of motivation for this work.

Brent E. Turvey, MS - Forensic Science; PhD - Criminology

Turvey, B. (2011) Criminal Profiling, 4th Ed., London: Elsevier Science

Turvey B. (2013) Forensic Fraud, San Diego: Elsevier Science

Savino, J. & Turvey, B. (2011) Rape Investigation Handbook, 2nd Ed., San Diego: Elsevier Science

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