Ethical Dilemmas in Forensic Science Case ?· Ethical Dilemmas in Forensic Science Case Background:…

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  • EthicalDilemmasinForensicScience

    CaseBackground: JohnR.Epcot(JR)wasconvictedofmurderandisnowondeathrowforthedeathsofhiswifeattheirfamilyhomeinJasper,Texas.FireoccurredonJuly4,2004inJasper,Texas.JRwasarrestedandchargedinthedeathonAugust15,2004.AjuryconvictedJRofcapitalmurderonAugust25,2006.Hewassentencedtodiebylethalinjection.

    TexasCourtofAppealaffirmedtheconviction.AmotionforrehearingwasdeniedonMarch25,2006.TheUnitedStatesSupremeCourtdeniedapetitionforwritofcertiorari.JRfiledapetitionforwritofhabeascorpusinstatecourt.TheTexasCourtofCriminalAppealsdeniedthepetitionforrelief.

    Twoyearslater,JRfiledasubsequentpetitionforwritofhabeascorpusinstatecourt,attachingastatementchallengingboththemedicaltestimonyandthefireinvestigation.TheStateresponded,attachingastatementfromasnitchinthejailthatJRhadconfessedthathesetthefiretokillhiswifeinordertocollectinsurance.TheTexasCourtofCriminalAppealsdeniedthepetition,findingthattheapplicationdidnotmeetthelegalrequirementsforaclaimofnewlydiscoveredevidenceofactualinnocence.

    Reviewofthetrialdocumentsindicatesthattheconvictionwasbasedon(a)eyewitnesstestimony(b)confession,(c)medicaltestimonyand(d)forensicarsoninvestigation.

    Eyewitnesstestimonyindicatedthatdespitetheneighborspleas,JRrefusedtogointothehouseinanyattempttorescuehiswife,demonstratedneitherremorseforhisactionsnorgrievedherlossandthatfurthermorehewasmoreworriedaboutthelossofpropertyincludingthedamagetohiscarthanthelossofhislovedone.

    MedicaldoctorstestifiedthatthewellestablishedburnssufferedbyJRweresosuperficialastosuggestthatthesamewereselfinflictedinanattempttodivertsuspicionfromhimselfandthatfurthermorebloodgasanalysisatalocalareahospitalshortlyafterthefirerevealedthatJRhadnotinhaledanysmoke,contrarytohisstatement.

    Thekeytestimonywasprovidedbythefireinvestigatorwhotestifiedthatalthoughhedidnotdemonstratedetectableaccelerants,thepatternatscenewasconsistentwiththeuseofaccelerantsincludingthepresenceofVpattern,floorpatterns,crazedglass,spalling,andtheburnintensity.

    CaseReview: Onreviewofbothmedicalandscientificevidence,asanexpertforStateyourealizethatthescientificunderstandingregardingfiresciencehaschangedwiththeadventofnewtechnologyandobservationsbasedoncontrolledburns.Forensicpathologistcannotanymorepredict

    whetheraninjuryisselfinflictedbasedonthedegreeoftheburn.Also,negativebloodgasescannotruleoutthatJRhadinfactinhaledsmoke.Additionally,basedoncurrentunderstanding,thereisnoscientificbasistoconcludethatthewidthofVpattern,floor

  • patterns,crazedglass,spallingorthemultipleoriginoffireareproofthatanaccelerantwasused.

    Questions:

    1. Asascientistwhatresponsibilitydoyouhavetoalertthestakeholderswhenscientificunderstandinghaschangedortechnologyhasadvanced.Whenmightsucharesponsibilityapply?

    2. Whatshouldbethescopeofalaboratorysdutytocorrecterrorsinanaccreditedcrimelaboratory?

    3. Howfarbackdoesthisdutygo?Shouldthelaborthescientistevaluatecasesgoingback5years,10years,20years?

    4. Isitpossibletodefinethescopeofcorrectiveactioninawaythatmaximizespotentialimpactandminimizescost?Shouldcostbeconsideredatall?Howdoesalaboratorymakethatdetermination?

    5. CanyourelateexamplesofhowsuchissueshavebeenaddressedincrimelaboratoriesinTexas?

    6. Whatarethemajorethicaldilemmafacingforensicscientiststoday?7. Whatisethicalbehaviorandasscientistshowcanweencourageethicalbehavioramongall

    stakeholdersinTexas?

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