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The Admissibility of Scientific Evidence in the United States

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  • The Admissibility of Scientific Evidence in the United States

    Mike,

    To avoid, derailing a rather interesting discussion, I have started this thread in answer to your quote below.

    The following quote is from your post #549, from Topping Hutchinson - looking at his son's account:

    Originally posted by The Good Michael View Post
    Here's something from the Straight Dope about handwriting analysis:

    No forensic technique has taken more hits than handwriting analysis. In one particularly devastating federal ruling, United States v. Saelee (2001), the court noted that forensic handwriting analysis techniques had seldom been tested, and that what testing had been done "raises serious questions about the reliability of methods currently in use." The experts were frequently wrong--in one test "the true positive accuracy rate of laypersons was the same as that of handwriting examiners; both groups were correct 52 percent of the time." The most basic principles of handwriting analysis--for example, that everyone's handwriting is unique--had never been demonstrated. "The technique of comparing known writings with questioned documents appears to be entirely subjective and entirely lacking in controlling standards," the court wrote. Testimony by the government's handwriting expert was ruled inadmissible.

    This is what several of us have been trying to say. We can all do it. Things like aging documents and detecting alterations require some expertise and tools, but all the rest seems to be based upon what the naked eye can tell. Look at the "Diary" for example. No one can conclusively say anything about it that satisfies everyone. In what I see, the similarities are far too great for chance. There really should be no argument against that, but there is. If someone wants to argue fraud, that's a different matter. This debate will never end, but I know the answer and that suffices for me. As a teacher, I know that I can't make everyone learn as hard as I might try. There comes a time where one simply must be satisfied in the knowing. I'm pretty much there.

    Cheers,

    Mike
    Please accept my apologies for the length of the following post.

    This is not a comprehensive summary of the law--that would take far too long and this is not the forum--but a basic framework concerning the admissibility of scientific evidence (specifically, forensic handwriting) in the United States. For convenience, I have referenced the relevant case law and provided links rather than summarize each case in full.

    In addition, the following post cites the complete findings of the forensic handwriting study submitted by Dr. Kam in, United States v. Saelee, and subsequent cases. Furthermore, this post clarifies why the expert's testimony in Saelee, cited by Mike above, was ruled inadmissible.

    *Mike, having briefly reviewed Saelee, I can not find another expert's study, other than Dr. Kam's, containing the statistical findings you note above. If I am in error, please provide me with the link to the study you have cited above in, Saelee.

    If you wish to read an opposing view regarding the admissibility of forensic handwriting experts' testimony, please read the following paper by Michael J. Saks: http://www.bioforensics.com/conferen...oundation.html . It should be noted, however, that Saks's arguments have failed to reverse the courts' rulings concerning the admissibility of forensic handwriting experts' testimony in at least two subsequent cases.

    As will be shown, Saelee was not devastating, nor were the study's full findings.

    1)A Brief Legal History of the Admissibility of Scientific Evidence in the United States:

    Expanding on Frye v. United States (App. D.C. 1923), the Supreme Court of the United States in, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786. 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993) set out a five-point test--the Daubert Standard--to govern the rules of admissibility for scientific evidence. For a good overview of the Daubert Standard please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daubert_standard

    The tests set out in Daubert were broadened in, Kumho Tire v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999), to include all expert and technical testimony, and permit a pre-trial assessment of the admissibility of scientific evidence on a case-by-case basis.

    After the ruling in, Saelee, the Court in, United States v. Prime (220 F.Supp.2d 1203 [W.D. Wash., 2002], ruled that expert handwriting analysis was admissible under the Daubert Standard. Please see: http://federalevidence.com/blog/2008...bility-factors.

    The ruling in Prime was reaffirmed in, United States v. Thornton Case No. 02-M-9150-01, decided January 24, 2003.

    The decision in Saelee is one example of one court rejecting one handwriting expert's scientific testimony. If you wish, I can provide recent examples of similar occurrences with fingerprinting. The inadmissibility of scientific evidence is a common legal occurrence, and integral to the legitimacy of the legal system.

    2.1) Dr. Kam's Study:

    The following summation, quoted from, http://www.forensic-evidence.com/sit..._prime_ID.html, examines Dr. Kam's full findings as considered in, Saelee, (see also, Prime and Thornton), and explains the Court's reasoning for ruling the expert's testimony was inadmissible.

    Dr. Kam's Study (my italics):

    "In his studies, Professor Kam compared the performance of professional forensic document examiners with non-professionals in matching handwriting. Professor Kam testified in court that the first of his studies that lay persons made far more types of errors than professional examiners."

    "The second study showed that as a group, examiners' performance was different from that of lay persons: Lay persons rivaled professional examiners in being able to select different documents written by one person. However, lay persons also claimed erroneously that documents written by different people had the handwriting of the same person 38 percent of the time, whereas experts made the same mistake 6.5 percent of the time As Professor Kam stated: "It struck me very quickly that lay persons tend to see similarities and jump to a conclusion . . . whereas document examiners always started the analysis–when I asked why did you make the decision–by trying to show me [sic] what's different."

    "The third [Kam] study showed that a different incentive scheme did not make a difference in the results; it apparently also showed an unexplained improvement in the ability of lay persons to avoid false positives."
    "The fourth study showed that professionals and lay persons did not differ significantly in detecting forgeries, but professionals were better at finding genuine signatures . Professionals erroneously concluded that forgeries were genuine 0.5 percent of the time whereas lay persons did so 6.5 percent of the time; professionals mistakenly concluded that genuine signatures were forgeries 7.1 percent of the times, lay persons did so 26.1 percent of the time."

    "The Kam studies indicate that handwriting identification is not error-free; however, the differences in error rates and results between professionals versus lay persons show that the field is one that is amenable to developing an expertise and that, with proper training, professionals can improve their accuracy. For the purposes of this case, the Court considers the expertise and testimony of Storer (United States v. Prime(220 F.Supp.2d 1203 [W.D. Wash., 2002] )to be adequately tested. Further scientific testing on handwriting comparison would undoubtedly aid in gauging the field's legitimacy; however, as a legal matter, the field has been sufficiently tested by its long-established use, and the research that already has been concluded. Daubert does not require more: The test of admissibility is not whether a particular scientific opinion has the best foundation or whether it is demonstrably correct. Rather, the test is whether the particular opinion is based on valid reasoning and reliable methodology."
    2.2) The Court's rejection of the expert's testimony:

    "The Saelee court's problem with the Kam studies was that "they did not conclusively establish that forensic document examiners can reliably do what they say they do." However, the context of the Saelee court's ruling was entirely different: As already noted, the court was dealing with a writer whose native language was not known and with a small quantity of questioned writing. The Saelee court specifically noted that:

    'The court would point out that it is not holding that handwriting analysis can never be a field of expertise under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The court is merely holding that the Government has failed to meet its burden of establishing that the proffered expert testimony in this case is admissible under Rule 702.' "

    Mike, the ruling you have cited was not devastating, it is merely one example among thousands where scientific evidence is ruled inadmissible. Furthermore, Dr. Kam's findings were statistically significant (in favour of the expertise demonstrated by forensic handwriting experts over the control group). Indeed, there are other studies I can cite, if you require further reading.

    It is a necessary function of a healthy legal system to demand the highest and most exacting standards for scientific evidence. Scientific evidence must be constantly tested, retested, refined, and challenged, for without such rigorous practices all scientific evidence would be regarded with suspicion and rendered inconsequential.

    To this end, the Daubert Standard was not appropriate in Saelee for specific reasons, but the standards for the admissibility of scientific evidence--forensic handwriting expert testimony--have been upheld in Prime, and Thornton because the Courts' methodically constructed tests have been met.

    Again, my apologies for the length of the post.

    Regards,

    Dorian

  • #2
    Dorian,

    I had read Kam's findings as well. The problem is a court, depending upon the judge, on any day, may find such things inadmissible. The reality of the signatures is that, via the naked eye, they are remarkably similar. If any of us in Ripperland were to just sign the name George Hutchinson in as normal a signature we can, I can't imagine any two would be remotely similar, can you? The coincidence alone is remarkable with regards to a family story, the only one we know of, and a father's signature closely resembling a known witness (never a suspect).

    Back to forensic documents examiners: I read Kam's report or at least highlights of the report on a forensic document examiner's advocacy site. In fact, every site I saw that was pro handwriting analysis was an advocacy site of some fashion. The piece I quoted was from a seemingly impartial site; a layman just getting information out. He too, if I would have sited everything, was up in the air about the validity.

    Until scientific method is used it prove the efficacy of such things, I'm a non-believer. Sound familiar?

    Cheers,

    Mike
    huh?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by The Good Michael View Post
      Dorian,

      I had read Kam's findings as well. The problem is a court, depending upon the judge, on any day, may find such things inadmissible. The reality of the signatures is that, via the naked eye, they are remarkably similar. If any of us in Ripperland were to just sign the name George Hutchinson in as normal a signature we can, I can't imagine any two would be remotely similar, can you? The coincidence alone is remarkable with regards to a family story, the only one we know of, and a father's signature closely resembling a known witness (never a suspect).

      Back to forensic documents examiners: I read Kam's report or at least highlights of the report on a forensic document examiner's advocacy site. In fact, every site I saw that was pro handwriting analysis was an advocacy site of some fashion. The piece I quoted was from a seemingly impartial site; a layman just getting information out. He too, if I would have sited everything, was up in the air about the validity.

      Until scientific method is used it prove the efficacy of such things, I'm a non-believer. Sound familiar?

      Cheers,

      Mike
      Mike,

      Thank you for your reply.

      I have cited cases after the ruling in Saelee where the Daubert Standard was met--the standard by which all expert and technical testimony is adjudicated.

      I realize my post was tedious, but I took a great deal of time to write a fair response to your claims concerning the evidence in Saelee and the court's reasoning for determining the evidence was inadmissible. I would ask, before you dismiss the post out of hand, that you read the facts presented.

      If one examines the actual findings from Dr. Kam's study quoted above, their statistical significance clearly sides with the expertise of specialists over laymen.

      However, to avoid a one-sided post I made reference to Dr. Saks, and posted a link to one of his papers. Dr. Saks is a well-respected scientist, and one the staunchest critics of forensic handwriting evidence.

      If you require further reading, I can provide a list of government agencies and private companies that employ forensic handwriting examiners, not only in the United States but worldwide.

      The main thrust of my post was to demonstrate that the ruling in Saelee was not, "devastating" as you claimed, and that the findings you quoted were in question. As I noted above, if I am in error, and another study was used in Saelee, please provide me with a link to the study and I will gladly read the findings, and amend my future posts accordingly. Good science and scholarship should never be afraid of dissenting or opposing viewpoints.

      Scientific evidence is adjudicated by the exacting methods set out in the Daubert Standard. In turn, the Daubert Standard perpetuates an active, rigorous standard which must be met, if challenged, by expert or technical testimony. If the scientific evidence fails to meet that standard, as in Saelee, then that evidence is deemed inadmissible.

      In essence, the results of the Scientific Method is the measure by which science is accepted or rejected by the scientific community. The Daubert Standard is the test established by the Supreme Court of the United States to determine if expert or technical evidence is admissible. Although one relies on the validity of the other, they should not be confused.

      Regards,

      Dorian

      Comment


      • #4
        Dorian,

        The Daubert standard itself may be interpreted differently by different people (judges). The Daubert standard is also not used in several states, making it suspect. I think it is an important concept, but it doesn't hold up to close scrutiny in my eyes because Document analysis is a soft science. I see its purpose when dealing with forgeries and dating, though even that is inexact. Let's compare it with carbon dating for example. Depending upon what dating methods are used, but let's say Carbon 14, the isotope itself degrades inexactly with a half-life of + or - 40 years. Add that to any number of human errors, and we can't get too exact about dating, though it is useful and gets very close. It is a science because there are principles of isotope degradation that can be followed closely. With mere signatures, we only have the naked eye and the potential of human error and preconceptions. If we just look at the signatures as two-dimensional objects, we can see striking similarities that go far beyond the realm of coincidence. If we want to analyze dates and check for forgery or tampering, by all means a document examiner may perform such tasks better than a layman. If subterfuge is not called into question, we are left with Toppy most certainly being Hutchinson of JTR fame.

        I never dismiss anything out of hand. Forensic document examiners may have a place in the world of forgeries, but not in a world where nothing is amiss.

        I appreciate your processes and your adherence to scientific methodologies. I feel the same. Here, we have to trust what we can see.

        Cheers,

        Mike
        huh?

        Comment


        • #5
          morning all

          Dorian...thank you for your postings which are detailed and informative, and very interesting to read.

          Mike:


          I think it is an important concept, but it doesn't hold up to close scrutiny in my eyes because Document analysis is a soft science...I appreciate your processes and your adherence to scientific methodologies. I feel the same. Here, we have to trust what we can see.
          It never ceases to amaze me how you denigrate the expertise involved in document analysis precisely because it is a 'soft' science, rejecting the findings of a world-renowned document examiner, who not only has expertise and experience, but the benefit of having seen and compared the actual documents in question, yet are prepared to put blind faith (pun intended ) in your own eyes, never once thinking your own prejudices might be influencing what you see by leading you to conclusions you are predisposed to make...i think Dorian refers to this as confirmation bias. Your own eyes, which have only copies, some corrupted, to judge on!

          Perception, indeed all human experience, is 'constructive'; looking at something with your eyes is not like pointing a video camera at something and receiving back an accurate unadulterated picture of it. Interpretation comes into play; some people see what they want or expect to see. This is a notable phenomenon in, for example, reportings of sightings of ghosts and U.F.Os. Until you recognise this fact you will continue to see what you see, without appreciating that it may not be a totally 'true' reflection of the data you are trying to interpret.

          On the Topping thread you said
          In what I see, the similarities are far too great for chance.
          I don’t know how to break this to you Mike, but Sam already explained he had altered the samples precisely to facilitate the seeing of those similarities and the disappearance/minimising of the differences (not for nefarious reasons i appreciate). Those similarities aren’t, therefore, attributable to chance; they are there by conscious design. Add in to that the teaching of handwriting during the Victorian era leading to much more similarity between scripts than we are used to today, and you have more than enough explanation for the 'apparent' similarities you see.


          But regarding the digital samples themselves, if you change something to emphasis the similarities, it stands to reason that the similarities will become more apparent. That is logical. It has to be remembered that Leander was not sent all of the signatures, they were not in their original state, and at the end of the day they were just copies. Even he, with all his experience and knowledge, counselled that a professional, accurate opinion could not possibly be tendered on the materials presented to him. Yet you feel safe reaching your conclusions, to reach absolute certainty on those conclusions? We are in a less able position than Leander since at least he has experience and training in document analysis and knows what to look for. Ditto Iremonger, with her trump card of having seen and compared the actual originals.


          How many of us are using these same samples to come to our conclusions about whether the signatures match or not? How can we ‘believe our eyes’ or trust what we see, when we know for a fact that what we ‘see’ cannot be ‘believed’, that what we see are not the originals and therefore cannot possibly lead us to come to a fully informed response?

          With respect, we haven't seen the originals and we cannot possibly make a fully informed decision without having done so.
          Last edited by babybird67; 12-04-2009, 03:12 PM.
          babybird

          There is only one happiness in life—to love and be loved.

          George Sand

          Comment


          • #6
            BB,

            Yawn
            huh?

            Comment


            • #7
              lol

              that's the problem with some of the people on this thread. They spend too much time sleeping so that they can dream that they are right.

              Sleep in the eyes affects vision as well Mike!
              babybird

              There is only one happiness in life—to love and be loved.

              George Sand

              Comment


              • #8
                You know, at first I was apt to blame the individuals involved, but now, I am starting to wonder if there's something about Hutchinson that will eventually turn all who tread there into unmitigated jackasses.

                Let all Oz be agreed;
                I'm Wicked through and through.

                Comment


                • #9
                  The "O" Man.....

                  Wherever Hutchinson rises, He creates armies on either shore, turning poster against poster, until that poster exists no more...

                  Please people....Hutchinson was totally innocent...it was the DEMONS that possessed his body who were guilty...

                  666

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Marlowe,

                    Thanks. That helps us with his defense.

                    Cheers,

                    Mike
                    huh?

                    Comment

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