Validity of Bloodstain Patterns Called into Question
Judges and juries are often swayed by what they think is the scientific reliability of the so-called “forensic sciences” such as analysis of handwriting, fingerprints, hair, bite marks, and blood spatter patterns. No wonder. It can be very impressive when people who claim to be experts in forensic science fields testify as to their conclusions about evidence that supposedly links an accused suspect to a crime.
However, while some evidence (such as from DNA) can be extremely accurate, there are limitations to many areas of forensic science, and tools such as bloodstain patterns can be flawed. In fact, appeals due to DNA scrutiny of older injuries that led to previous convictions have shown that many wrongful convictions resulted from reliance on less accurate types of forensic testimony.
In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (“NAS”) issued a report entitled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” The report criticized the absence of validation for virtually all forensic methodology except for DNA. It criticized lawyers and judges for relying on forensic evidence “without fully understanding and addressing the limitations of the different forensic science disciplines.”
Bloodstain pattern analysis (BPA) is one of the areas called into question. According to a ProPublica report, “bloodstain-pattern analysis has been accepted as reliable evidence by appellate courts in one state after another with little or no examination of its scientific accuracy.”
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime based on evidence from blood spatter patterns or any other forensic evidence, you need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney familiar with dealing with this type of evidence.
The seasoned and compassionate Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd, know Illinois forensic laws, judges, courts and the system, and can protect your rights by defending you against questionable forensic evidence. We provide skillful and aggressive criminal defense representation for clients in Woodridge and throughout the Chicagoland area.
We offer a free consultation to discuss the details of your individual situation, so call or contact us online today.
Bloodstain Spatter Pattern History
Bloodstain pattern analysis began appearing in courts when a small group of scientists and forensic investigators started testifying in cases, as experts in a new technique and then trained police officers, investigators and crime-lab technicians to testify as well. Defendants appealed in state appeals courts, but once a court ruled such testimony was admissible, other states’ courts followed suit. Courts rarely required objective proof of the accuracy of bloodstain pattern analysis.
Bloodstain analysis gained publicity in the 1954 case of Sam Sheppard, an Ohio doctor, convicted of murdering his wife. A scientist, Paul Leland Kirk, studied the bloodstains in the Sheppard home and interpreted the stains in a way that exonerated Sheppard in a new trial in 1966.
In 1984, in The People v. Knox, an appellate court in Illinois set precedent when it accepted bloodstain pattern analysis and held that a police officer was qualified to testify as an expert after taking a three-week course.
A series of cases over the years allowed the admissibility of blood stain analysis with little qualification of expert witnesses. Then, in 2009, the National Academy of Sciences study found serious deficiencies in the field of forensic science. The authors of the study noted that “in general, the opinions of bloodstain-pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific.”
The NAS recommended upgrades to the system, and although progress has been slow, some recommendations have been implemented.
Forensic Science in Illinois
Illinois is one of several states that utilizes the Frye standard in determining whether forensic evidence is admissible in court. The Frye standard is a general acceptance test which provides that expert opinion based on a scientific technique is admissible if the technique is generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community.
Federal courts and over half of state courts utilize the Daubert standard. This stricter standard excludes certain expert witnesses’ testimony and evidence that fails to meet a standard of relevancy and reliability.
In Illinois, there is a state Division of Forensic Services (DFS) that strives to deliver accurate, complete, and timely crime scene evidence collection and forensic laboratory analysis. To maintain accreditation, the forensic science laboratories must adhere to stringent standards of quality and sound scientific practice.
In Illinois, Rule of Evidence (IRE) 702 controls testimony by experts, including opinions based on novel scientific methodology. This was amended in 2011 to make it clearer. The rule now states that:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
However, questions of validity and the possibility of human error, contamination, bias, deficient peer review, or even fraud, still surround the field of forensic evidence. Despite the NAS report and the fact that Illinois is a Frye state, courts still admit forensic evidence such as blood spatters, and judges are bound by Illinois Supreme and Appellate Court decisions on Frye issues.
Contact Us for Help and Guidance
While forensic science such as blood spatter analysis can be helpful, conclusions must be within the limits of scientific methods and validity. If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, whether or not it involves forensic evidence, you need the help of an experienced attorney.
The seasoned and compassionate Illinois forensic crime defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense, including challenging the validity and processing of forensic evidence.
Don’t delay – call or contact us online for a free consultation today if you have been accused of any crimes. Our Illinois criminal defense lawyers represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, Illinois.