Thursday, June 5, 2014

Working for the defense

I often get asked about my role as a scientist in light of primary employer. "Have you ever worked for the defense?" How does it feel working for law enforcement?" These are just a few of the questions that I've faced in trial.

As a scientist, I really don't have a dog in the fight. My answer to that line of questioning usually goes like this, "Regardless of who's signature is on my pay cheque, I work for the Trier of Fact - assisting the judge and jury in correctly interpreting these complex pieces of evidence. The results of my tests are grounded in science. They are reliable and repeatable. My tools and techniques are based on generally accepted, peer reviewed image science. The academic references for the algorithms used, for each of the steps performed, are noted in my report."

That being said, I have assisted the court in uncovering fraudulent evidence presented as impeachment evidence in People v. Abdullah (BA353334). It could be said, in that case, that I was working in the defense of the accused. But again, I was there to assist the Trier of Fact in correctly interpreting the evidence. In that case, the correct interpretation was that it was a forgery. In Hor. v. City of Seattle, I assisted the Trier of Fact in correctly answering the question about if/when a particular sound is heard in a recording (10-2-34403-9SEA) - seemingly in the defense of the City of Seattle - but more correctly in defense of the facts of the matter.

Trier of Fact n. the judge or jury responsible for deciding factual issues in a trial. If there is no jury the judge is the trier of fact as well as the trier of the law. In administrative hearings, an administrative law judge, a board, commission, or referee may be the trier of fact.

Taken a step further, there are certain trade groups that are geared towards law enforcement that will expel a member who is perceived or accused of having worked "for the defense." The perception is that law enforcement are the "good guys" and the criminal defendants are the "bad guys." Yet, to an image scientist, a 1 or a 0 is neither good nor bad. They're just numbers. I've worked a few cases where the government's "experts" got everything completely wrong, their work product was not repeatable nor grounded in science, and thus their conclusion was complete rubbish (scientifically speaking). In these cases, who's the "good guy" and who's the "bad guy?"

In the famous treason trial of Aaron Burr, he was defended by Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin, both delegates to the Constitutional Convention and among the most prominent men of the day. The Burr trial is one of the more famous examples of how politics and ego can enter into court proceedings.

But back to the point, if you're one of those scientists that think in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys," are you not biased towards a presupposed outcome - good will overcome evil and the bad guys will be punished? Is this form of presuppositional bias a good thing or a bad thing for scientists? I am certainly not one of those types of scientists. I work the case and the facts are the facts, regardless of who is signing my paycheck.

In the end, A either equals A or it doesn't.

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