Medical Examiner Sues City Of New York After Being Forced Out Of Her Job For Questioning DNA Testing Techniques

from the siding-with-the-guilty?-that's-a-firin' dept

A lawsuit recently filed by an allegedly ousted New York City medical examiner lends more credibility to the theory that the justice system is more concerned with successful prosecutions than actual justice. At the center of the allegations lies a DNA testing technique apparently used nowhere else in the country.

A doctor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday, who said she was forced out of her job at the New York City Medical Examiner’s office after raising questions about the city’s use of a disputed technique for analyzing trace samples of DNA.

Dr. Marina Stajic said she was told she could either retire or be fired from her job as a laboratory director in April 2015. She said she was perceived as an adversary because of her position on the use of the DNA profiling technique known as low copy number, which critics have argued is unreliable and should not be used in court.
DNA evidence, once considered infallible, has proven to be just as questionable as other forms of evidence, like bite marks or hair samples. It's not so much the technique itself, but the fallibility of those using it. Test results are often overstated and the evidence itself is so minute (literally no more than dozens of cells) that it risks contamination if not handled extremely carefully. This is especially true of Low Copy Number, which uses far fewer cells than other DNA testing methods.
LCN requires just 15–20 cells, allowing profiles to be yielded from miniscule amounts of biological material—such as skin cells or sweat residue from a single fingerprint on a variety of items which an offender may have touched or come into contact with. The LCN DNA process ‘facilitates the examination of a whole new range of evidence types that previously could not be analyzed because of the very low amounts of DNA recoverable from the sample’.

But this sensitivity is accompanied by a range of risks as it can mislead crime investigations and/or lead to possible wrongful convictions. First, the number of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) cycles has to be substantially increased to obtain LCN DNA profiles, which inevitably magnifies the risk of contamination and inaccurate results from ‘stochastic effects’, random statistical anomalies. Secondly, even if a DNA profile is accurately yielded, there are difficulties associated with the propositions and interpretations that can be drawn from LCN DNA results. Since LCN DNA profile can stem from the cells of a single touch by an unconnected innocent individual prior to the crime, a phenomenon commonly termed ‘adventitious transference’ can occur. Thirdly, low levels of DNA may also result from secondary transfer. For instance, if the perpetrator who is a poor DNA shedder had casual contact with an innocent individual who is a good DNA shedder prior to committing the crime, the perpetrator may leave behind DNA of the innocent individual whilst not shedding any of his or her own cells.
Dr. Stajic also served on the state's Commission on Forensic Sciences and had been trying to get the city to drop the disputed DNA testing technique and move to something more reliable and less prone to false positives. Her complaint points out that the local Forensic Biology Laboratory is unique in its reliance on a questionable technique.
The use of LCN in criminal proceedings is currently the subject of controversy in the scientific and legal communities because of concerns that the analysis produces an unacceptable number of false positive results, which in turn can result in wrongful convictions.

On information and belief, the FBL is the only public DNA laboratory in the country that uses LCN in criminal cases. Sampson and Kuperfschmid have been strong advocates for the OCME’s continued use of LCN.
Sampson is Dr. Barbara Sampson, the city's Chief Medical Examiner. Sampson was the one who told Dr. Stajic she could either resign or be fired after trying to make data on LCN available to the public. The chain of events depicted in the filing indicate the Medical Examiner's Office is far more interested in locking people up than using accurate DNA testing methods.
Barry Scheck, Esq., a CFS Commissioner, participated in the October 24, 2014, meeting of the Commission. Scheck is a well-known criminal defense attorney and, along with fellow CFS Commissioner Peter Neufeld, Esq., is the co-founder of the Innocence Project, an organization that assists prisoners who can be proven innocent through the use of DNA testing.

At the October 24, 2014, meeting of the Commission, Scheck questioned Lien as to whether OCME had conducted an internal validation study that supported the use of LCN when the DNA sample recovered was a mixture of two or more people and the amount of the sample was particularly small (i.e., 25 picograms or less). Lien responded that OCME did indeed possess an internal validation study supporting the use of LCN under those circumstances.

Following Lien’s statement, Scheck made a motion for the Commission to request that OCME produce the internal validation study referred to by Lien and for the study to be available to the public.

Stajic voted in favor of Scheck’s motion because she believed that OCME should produce the internal data that it claimed supported the continued use of LCN with particularly small DNA samples. Stajic was also concerned that Lien’s statement about the existence of an internal validation study may not have been accurate.

Stajic was one of only three Commissioners to vote in favor of the motion, which was defeated. In addition to Stajic and Scheck, the only other Commissioner voting in favor of the motion was Marvin Schechter, who is also a criminal defense attorney...

Stajic’s vote in favor of Scheck’s motions were taken at a public meeting of the Commission. On information and belief, Sampson and Kuperfschmid became aware of Stajic’s votes, and they were displeased that Stajic appeared to be aligned with the criminal defense lawyers on the Commission, who Sampson and Kupferschmid viewed as adversarial to OCME
.
In an office where everyone should be striving for truth and accuracy, it appears those in control are far more interested in showing deference to one side of the criminal justice equation: the prosecution. In doing so, the medical examiner's office has cut the same public it's instrumental in locking up out of the data loop. And, if the allegations are true, the office is silencing dissent by cutting loose employees who question its methods.

Filed Under: dna testing, evidence, marina stajic, medical examiner, nyc


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  • icon
    madasahatter (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 4:19pm

    What Else is new

    It's the US Criminal Injustice system at work, frame the innocent to clear the case if they can not find the perp.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 5:24pm

    They just created a credible expert witness for defense lawyers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 5:26pm

    Jesus these people have advanced degrees, the average person has about 1.6 trillion skin cells of which you shed about 30,000 to 40,000 an hour. dust is mostly skin cells think about how much dust is on your house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      eaving (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 5:34pm

      Re:

      Please, please, please bring this myth to an end. While there is skin cells in dust, it most certainly is not MOSTLY skin cells.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        suomynonA, 18 Mar 2016 @ 11:51am

        Please, please, please bring this myth to an end. While there is skin cells in dust, it most certainly is not MOSTLY skin cells.

        "it most certainly is not MOSTLY skin cells."

        Of course it isn't skin. The way people seem these days, it's mostly discarded BRAIN cells.


        How does the joke (fixed for today's audience) go?

        Zombie walks into a shop, asks about the price of BRAAINZZ.

        The proprietor says, "Well, we got cheap and expensive. Einstein's brains go for a penny a pound, while brains from politicians go for about $100 per ounce."

        Mr Z: "Hey, but Einstein was famous and extremely smart while politicians are everywhere; don't you have the prices reversed?"

        Mr P.: "Nope -- do you know how many politicians it takes to actually find an ounce of brains?"


        ----
        Ba-dum-bum-CHING! Don't forget to tip your waitress; I'll be here all night.

        ----
        "Safe spaces" my a$$. The only safe space is inside a coffin. Deal with the world, all of the rest of us have to.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 6:59pm

    Just FOIA the stupid report...

    It's a final document rather than a deliberative one, since the court is using it as evidence.

    And the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is a government office...

    ... and surely they don't have the enormous stonewalling resources that the NYPD has...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 7:36pm

    The best and brightest of New York should come to the midwest to work where we still have some common sense and understand that it is better to let a possibly guilty person go free than put a innocent person away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 8:24pm

    Wait...

    "theory that the justice system is more concerned with successful prosecutions than actual justice."

    Who is still dumb enough to think that this theory has not been proven to be fact already?

    It's pretty much one of those open secrets!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:18pm

      Re: Wait...

      There are many people who believe this, sadly.

      There is a willing blindness in many people that bad things can't/don't happen because it never happened to them. That the government wouldn't pursue cases based on conjecture & guesses. That the accused are guilty because there is a downside to ruining someones life.

      Personally I've been accused in legal documents of horrible things, and there are people who assume I must be guilty of the claims. They didn't care to look at the people making the accusations wondering if there were other reasons for these claims. There are still people to this day convinced that the claims are true.

      There are court cases where the 'evidence' is just dressed up crap with no basis in reality. Courts accept it because it is magical technology, and showing evidence it is wrong is questioned more than the tech itself.

      There is a reason in rape cases they always mention imagine if it had been your wife/daughter... because they are trying to get people to personalize the issue. We remember the cases where the woman claimed rape, where no rape happened... more than we take notice of the cases where the claims were shown to be true. It is easier to imagine she is making it up, than the accused is innocent.

      We know the system is rigged, but we imagine that justice is fair with checks and balances to keep it from being unfair. That no one convicted of a crime is really innocent. There are still people who think the men at the center of the Central Park 5 case are guilty, despite the system releasing them when they found the actual perpetrator. The West Memphis Three, they didn't do it but the system still went out of its way to make sure they couldn't get anything for the system having screwed them. Showing that the system lied and railroaded people is seen as to much of a danger.

      They didn't even try to go after any of the big fish in the mortgage collapse because those are hard cases to win. (Ignore that the lawyer who was running that investigation now has a cushy job with one of the big fish in that case.) But they stack up tons of charges against some kid who defaced a website to get them to take a settlement so they can get a sticky gold star for winning.

      People want to believe that it doesn't happen, because doubting that core belief in Justice shakes everything. It is easier to think that mistakes are 1 off unicorns that rarely happen and not the result of a system running unchecked to get its gold stars for a job well done at the expense of a patsy. See also: Steven Averys first arrest and conviction while the actual criminal kept committing crimes. One of the leads from that case to this day still maintains he was guilty and doubts the DNA, because otherwise he has to accept they framed & railroaded an innocent man and admit his own part in doing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 19 Mar 2016 @ 1:08pm

        Re: Re: Wait...

        Well said. It's hard for many people to recognize just how bad our criminal and legal system has become because it's much more comfortable to just close your eyes and believe that everything is OK.


        "Personally I've been accused in legal documents of horrible things, and there are people who assume I must be guilty of the claims."

        Oh, hell, I've been named in a couple of lawsuits -- never as the target (or complainant), but just because I had relevant knowledge.

        Although the most recent one was 10 years ago, I still occasionally get the suspicious eye because of them. It's insane.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 9:13pm

    for profit prisons means you have a need to send innocent people to jail. While no one is ever truly innocent of anything they are most likely innocent of what they are being tried for.

    Of course if it was possible to see how much the DA and judges were getting in "donations and gifts" from those that own said for profit prisons yearly. be easier to find the corruption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 17 Mar 2016 @ 9:47pm

    Wow

    Did anyone else read it as "...more concerned with successful prostitutions..."

    Must be late.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 10:08pm

    Ultimately doubt in the justice system changes convicts to political prisoners.

    Since there is really no way to tell that a person was fairly tried or was simply forced through the justice system based on the lies and pretenses used to presume guilt and secure convictions.

    It means that Two-Face is right, and that a coin toss serves as better justice. At least then we know our odds.

    And it means that all these prisoners are put into prison not because of wrongdoing, but because a privileged official declared him enemy-of-the-state for personal reasons.

    They're all political prisoners now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 12:22am

      Re: Ultimately doubt in the justice system changes convicts to political prisoners.

      The sad part is they will never be freed under the currently corrupt governmental systems in place. The people trying to shine a light on this pit of corruption are more likely to be targeted and made examples of than any real reform going through.

      Would take a violent upheaval of things to get the innocent freed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:38am

      Re: Ultimately doubt in the justice system changes convicts to political prisoners.

      No! That's CUBA! The land of the free can't possibly do such things. /sarc

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 3:21am

    Mitochondrial variance

    If there is fear of contamination where the sample can hold cells of two people, it should be possible to screen the sample for variations of mitochondrial components, which should reveal the presence of 2 individuals.
    It is also possible the same is totally from an innocent person

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:40am

      Re: Mitochondrial variance

      Excuse me if my question is ignorant but there's very little variation in mitochondrial dna since it comes virtually unchanged from mothers to their offspring for thousands of years now. Amirite?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 6:24am

        Re: Re: Mitochondrial variance

        Yes in very general terms the mutation rate for mtDNA is low, but if a mutation occurs it can occur in your parent's generation which gave rise to you or 1000 generations ago. There is also a phenomenon known as heteroplasmy, see eg

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteroplasmy

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3526165/

        Abstra ct

        Mammalian cells contain thousands of copies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). At birth, these are thought to be identical in most humans. Here, we use long read length ultra-deep resequencing-by-synthesis to interrogate regions of the mtDNA genome from related and unrelated individuals at unprecedented resolution. We show that very low-level heteroplasmic variance is present in all tested healthy individuals, and is likely to be due to both inherited and somatic single base substitutions. Using this approach, we demonstrate an increase in mtDNA mutations in the skeletal muscle of patients with a proofreading-deficient mtDNA polymerase γ due to POLG mutations. In contrast, we show that OPA1 mutations, which indirectly affect mtDNA maintenance, do not increase point mutation load. The demonstration of universal mtDNA heteroplasmy has fundamental implications for our understanding of mtDNA inheritance and evolution. Ostensibly de novo somatic mtDNA mutations, seen in mtDNA maintenance disorders and neurodegenerative disease and aging, will partly be due to the clonal expansion of low-level inherited variants.


        etc

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:50am

    55 million for compromising pictures? This should be worth 100 million easy. I hope she has top notch counsel. Kevin is top rated, good to see. I am sick of people getting grief for doing the right thing, especially here at home. It is disgraceful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 6:11am

    Knowledge

    We all know that DNA evidence is irrefutable.

    We all know that scientists are paragons of virtue, who promote reason and objective Truth unassailed by concerns of petty, politics, tawdry, personal financial issues, or self-aggrandizement.

    The problem in its main part is not that humans don't know anything; it's that we *know* so much that's WRONG.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 7:15am

    Breaking the law

    Again, don't these people in charge of the ME's office take an oath to uphold the law? Their actions seem to be support apparent goals of increasing successful prosecution percentages, but that is in contrast to upholding the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 7:33am

    Further proof that we don't have a justice system. All we have is a legal system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 7:41am

    Mitochondrial variance

    It is true that mitochondrial DNA is strongly conserved, but it does suffer mutation. If the mutation does not interfere with the function, it is inherited. If the mutation interferes with mitochondrial function, function is impaired, and even prevented, which can lead to cellular death or death of the organism if it occurred at a primal stage in replication(egg = one cell).
    https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#safe=active&q=mutational+variance+in+mitochondria

    A screen of spontaneous abortions reveals this does occur. In addition, there are a number of mitochondrial diseases with variable outcomes, some fatal, some chronic.
    https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#safe=active&q=mitochondrial+disease

    The net result is that there is enough variation to screen people, but possibly not in relatives/siblings/twins.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 8:24am

    Science requires constant evaluation and willingness to recheck and question methodologies. This is how progress happens. If the case is as it appears at face value, it would appear Dr. Barbara Sampson is no friend of science, and is an incompetent who should be stripped of her role.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 1:16pm

    Competence and evidence, Dr. Barbara Sampson etc.

    Prosecutors want toggle switch evidence, the light of truth is either on or off. They do not want a dimmer switch with the prosecution and the defence trying to vary the validity of the evidence.
    In the case of LCN, the ratio of suspected perpetrator DNA can vary from zero to 100%, and the scattered innocent DNA will be the inverse. In the case of publicly accessed items. like door-knobs, you can have mixed DNA from many people. With PCR multiplication you can see how many different people were present as trace DNA fragments, since even a single cell would be capable of differentiation via PCR.
    One hopes a swab from the suspect can be used to determine if he was represented in the sample.
    Dr. Barbara Sampson may be very competent, as is Dr Stajic also very competent. We are not assessing their competence. Samson is trying to turn this into an on-off toggle, the perp DNA is present or not. Stajic is making a middle ground, and middle ground can be exploited to reduce the certainty of the evidence. Once the evidence is less certain in the eyes of the jury - perps walk.

    Sadly, LCN is quite valid, as it can show or deny the perps cell(s) is(are) presence, even with 50 others in the mix.
    The question is:- Is the perp an innocent railroaded in?

    If there are 300 cells of a stranger and one cell of the perp - did the stranger do it?

    That said, there should be an internal dialog to validate the LCN method, because it can show that the perps DNA is there, and with other evidence to buttress it, might well be correct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 3:45pm

      Re: Competence and evidence, Dr. Barbara Sampson etc.

      "Prosecutors want toggle switch evidence, the light of truth is either on or off."

      Which is another serious problem. The "light of truth" is rarely so binary, and to pretend it is pretty much ensures that there will be injustice.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:09pm

    Milk in the water

    Impedes vision of the truth.
    Since the jury selection process eliminate DNA competence, all it takes it a little milk in the water to obscure the truth and sow that "doubt" in a few minds that the defence tries to expand.

    They actually need a jury made up of competent DNA specialists...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Punch, 27 Mar 2018 @ 6:50am

    Billy Stajic

    VELJA Stajic Billy the Kid Was his case resolved And corrections made Through DNA Testing and was his name ever cleared before he died ? Who will get justice for this mistake ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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