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.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.
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.
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’.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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.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.
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.