Thursday, September 15, 2011


--- Begin editorial ---

I was recently contacted by someone who needed me to work on a case involving video based evidence. I examined the evidence briefly and told them that it would take about a week to set up the experiments, test/validate the results, and return a report. His answer, "can it be done quicker? I don't care about the other stuff. I just need to get something that I can use and get it out to the media."

My answer was simple. I turned down the job. I tried to explain to the customer that I'd either do it the right way, or not at all - that justice demands the process be followed and that expediency has no place in science.

Expediency? Expediency is a regard for what is politic or advantageous rather than for what is right or just. "I'm just trying to get this done ..." "Quick and dirty." "It's not for court, it's for the media ..."

If the multimedia evidence will be used to help identify a suspect, either through a BOLO flyer, a media alert, or bill boards and bus benches ... is it really "not for court?"

What if "quick and dirty" gets it wrong? What if, in "just trying to get something done," your freeware tools or shoddy processes ignore aspect, colour and light, drop frames, etc. In the process, you get the shape of the face wrong, the skin or clothing colour wrong ... and someone identifies the wrong person. What if your "quick and dirty" wastes time and resources as investigators look in the wrong direction?

What's our responsibility to the Trier of Fact to get it right, from start to finish? Is it possible to be both fast and accurate? I would argue that it is ... provided that the technician has the appropriate training and equipment.

Is it ethical to base your workflow or business processes on expediency? I've received a number of e-mails asking about speeding up processes because of mandatory filing deadlines. Essentially what's being said is that the analyst isn't being given the proper amount of time because a suspect is in custody and the investigator needs to get the case filed. Ouch.

What about expediency in terms of assignment of personnel? Is it ethical to place an employee into a position for which he/she does not have appropriate training and experience? These are all questions facing supervisors as budgets shrink. What's the appropriate response? Is the NAS report right in that lab functions should be privatized, separated from governmental agencies?

With the Crawford doctrine taking hold and defendants exercising their right to question everyone, attorneys are digging into the training and expertise of technicians who are involved in the prosecution's case. Given Brady, would a technician necessarily want to harm his/her career by being on the losing end of a thorough cross examination - being found unqualified to provide testimony? What role do managers play in preventing this from happening? In other words, if you know that your people are not as qualified as they should be, and you know attorneys are using Crawford (6th Ammendment) to call everyone related to the case, why would you entertain expediency? In "just getting things done," you may be ending the careers of your people and ultimately harming your case.

This is just an editorial on my part. Now that budgets are shrinking, I've been getting so many e-mails on the subject of "getting things done" that I had to say something. I'm not speaking about any one agency or firm - just collectively about the practice of expediency. Expediency has no place in the justice system, in my humble opinion.

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