Secrets Hidden In Soil
Soil means different things to different people. Earth scientists see soil as mineral or organic material that is formed on Earth's surface by dynamic, complex processes. Engineers think of soil as material to build on and are concerned with moisture conditions and the ability of soil to become compacted and hold weight. Agriculturalists think of soil as the top 15-30 cm of Earth's surface to grow crops, while others think of soil as dirt which one plays in or gets "dirty" from.
Soil scientists, or pedologists, are primarily interested in the way the five soil forming factors (parent material, climate, topotgraphy, organisms, and time) affect the properties of the soil in its natural, undisturbed state. However, Forensic Geologists study soil that has been disturbed or moved during human activity, to solve crimes. Forensic Geologists obtain soil samples from crime scenes and other sites in question where soil may have been transported, by vehicle or by foot perhaps, and are suspect. Soil characteristics are diverse and this diversity enables Forensic Geologists to use soils as evidence in criminal investigations.
THE FIVE SOIL FORMING FACTORS
Soil formation and the properties of the soil are the result of five key factors:
1. parent material: The material from which the soil is formed. Soil parent material could be bedrock, organic material, an old soil surface, or a deposit from water, wind, glaciers, volcanoes, or material moving down a slope.
2. climate: Heat, rain, ice, snow, wind, sunshine and other environmental forces break down the parent material and affect how fast or slow soil processes go.
3. organisms: All plants and animals living in or on the soil (including micro-organisms and humans!). The amount of water and nutrients ,plants need affects the way soil forms. Animals living in the soil affect decomposition of waste materials and how soil materials will be moved around in the soil profile. The dead remains of plants and animals become organic matter which enriches the soil. The way humans use soils affect soil formation.
4. topography: The location of a soil on a landscape can affect how the climatic processes impact it. Soils at the bottom of a hill will get more water than soils on the slopes, and soils on the slopes that directly face the sun will be drier than soils on slopes that do not.
5. time: All of the above factors assert themselves over time, often hundreds or thousands of years.
The way the five soil-forming factors interact is always different from one place to another, so soils differ greatly from each other. Each section of soil on a landscape has its own unique characteristics. The face of a soil, or the way it looks if you cut a section of it out of the ground, is called a soil profile, like the profile of a person's face. Every soil profile is made up of layers called soil horizons. Soil horizons can be as thin as a few millimeters or thicker than a meter.
Soil profiles and their horizons change as you move across a landscape, and also change as you move downward deeper into the soil at one location. In fact, soil samples taken at the surface may have entirely different characteristics and appearances from soil dug deeper in the soil profile. One common reason soil horizons are different as you dig deeper is because of mixing of organic material in the upper horizons and weathering and leaching in the lower horizons. Erosion, deposition, and other forms of disturbance might also affect the way a soil profile looks at a particular location.
Now, you may be wondering how many soil types are in existence. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) maps and collects soil data at many different scales. According to the USDA, there are over 50,000 different varieties of soil in the United States alone! Since parent material, climate, organisms, and the amount of time it takes for these to all interact varies worldwide, soil combinations also vary worldwide. Forensic Geologists have their work cut out for them. So, how do Forensic Geologists use soil to solve crimes? Read on!
TECHNIQUES USED BY FORENSIC GEOLOGISTS
Soil samples must be carefully collected, handled at the crime scene and then compared by a Soil Scientist to ensure that the soil samples can be useful during an investigation. To compare means to understand that no two objects on Earth are exactly the same; however, two soil samples (or other Earth material) could have originally come from the same place, but a portion of the soil (or other Earth material) could have been removed to another location during human activity. Forensic Geologists look for uncommon and unusual particles, or unusual combinations of particles, in soil samples and compare them with similar soil in a known location. Depending on the type of soil and the minerals present, in addition to grain size, the Forensic Geologist employs intensive observational methods and analyzes crime information to deduce whether a soil sample can be used as evidence.
Often, the forensic geologist must determine the distribution of particle sizes in samples for use during comparison studies, mineral studies, and color studies. To perform these studies, the forensic geologist uses methods that GLOBE students and teachers use to study soil soils. Soil samples are taken from intact soil profiles whenever possible and then characterized for structure and texture. The Forensic Geologist uses sieves, graduated cylinders, and hydrometers to perform soil particle size distribution analyses and also performs bulk density tests to determine soil porosity. If the samples collected are discovered to have cementing agents such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3), iron (Fe), or organics which hold the soil particles together, then these cementing agents are removed using special chemicals.
INSTRUMENTS USED TO STUDY EARTH MATERIALS
Approximately fifty common minerals as well as some less common minerals can be seen by the naked eye, but using a lens or low power binocular microscope enables the Forensic Geologist to better detect mineral properties and provide more accurate mineral identification. A common instrument used to study thin sections of rock, mineral, and soil samples is a petrographic microscope. Thin sections of Earth material are mounted on a glass slide and viewed with the petrographic microscope as light filters through its special attachments.
Scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and electron microscopes also can be used to examine particles over 100,000 times their original size making them very useful. Forensic Geologists and lab scientists are able to see, in greater detail, the characteristics and variations of soil samples. Fossils and pollen spores that collect in rocks and soil can also be seen, and are sometimes useful indicators when studying soil samples. In fact, scientists were not able to see the distinct differences in very small fossils nor scratches on mineral grains until the SEM was invented. The electron microscope and scanning electron microscope are very useful to the Forensic Geologist who must analyze soil samples with great precision and make important decisions that affect peoples lives.
CRIMINAL CASES SOLVED USING EARTH MATERIALS
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has collected and studied soil samples, minerals, and other Earth material for criminal investigations since 1935 and thousands of cases involving Earth materials are studied in the United States each year. Throughout the world soil is usually collected at crime scenes, is routinely studied at crime labs, and is often used as physical evidence during crime trials.
Following are some real-life stories of crimes that were solved using Earth materials, thorough investigative work, and dedicated, professional scientists who studied soils and geology to become knowledgeable in their field. So you see, there really is more to soil than what's under foot!
A crime had been committed in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near Denver, Colorado. One month later a burning vehicle was found at a dump in New Jersey (on the East Coast of the United States). Soil samples were taken from the fender of the burning car and were studied by Forensic Geologists. Analyses of the soil samples showed there were four layers of soil that had built up under the burning car's fender. The outer, most recently deposited layer of soil was from the New Jersey dumpsite. The three inner layers of soil contained minerals from the Rocky Mountain Front area near Denver, Colorado (If you don't know geography, now is a good time to pull out the United States map and take a look).
Forensic geologists obtained 360 soil samples from the Rocky Mountain Front area to compare them with those found under the fender of the burning car in New Jersey. Soil samples were also taken from the victims ranch. One of the three inner layers of soil under the suspect's car's fender matched the soil sample Forensic Geologists obtained at the crime scene. The second inner layer of soil under the suspect's car fender matched the soil sample Forensic Geologists obtained at the victim's ranch. The first inner layer of soil did not match any of the 360 soil samples taken by the Forensic Geologists but was determined to have originated from the Denver area. The suspect was convicted and jailed based upon the results using soil sample comparisons.
In the case of stolen potatoes on the east coast of the United States, a suspect who possessed the questionable potatoes was convicted of stealing them once analysis of the soil on the potatoes determined that the superphosphate in the soil that was clinging to the potatoes matched the soil from the farm where the potatoes were grown. The farm's soil contained a significant build up of phosphate because the farm was heavily fertilized with nitrogen, potash, and phosphate (phosphate doesn't leach out of the soil as readily as potash and nitrogen).
In another case, tobacco was reported stolen from a farm. Soil samples were taken from the farm where the tobacco had been stolen, and samples were also taken from the leaves of the stolen tobacco and from the suspect's farm. Soil comparison studies indicated that the soil on the stolen tobacco leaves did not match the soil samples taken from the suspect's farm, but matched soil samples taken from the farm where the tobacco was reported stolen. The suspect was arrested based upon the resulting soil sample comparisons.
Microscopic fossils called diatoms were once very prominent on Earth, and collectively deposited to form a sedimentary rock called diatomaceous earth. Some manufaturers use diatomaceous earth for insulating safes, that are used to store valuables. Burglary crimes have been solved by examining white specks from suspects' hair and clothing to determine that the specks were actually diatoms that came from broken safes at crime scenes, and not dandruff as the suspects had claimed.
If you would like to learn more about the interesting and exciting world of soil, check with your local library or on the World Wide Web. You just might learn something you'd never thought about before!
Information contained in"Secrets Hidden in Soil" was derived from "Forensic Geology" by R. Murray and J. Tedrow, Rutgers University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8135-0794-4. Also, special thanks to Dr. Richard Arnold, USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service/Soil Survey Division, Washington, D.C.
Analytical Techniques for the Comparison of Soil Samples:
The forensic technique commonly used for the analysis of soil samples is the density gradient tube technique. Glass tubes measuring 6 to 10 millimetres in diameter and 25 to 40 centimetres in length are filled with several layers of two liquids mixed in varying proportions such that each layer has a different density. An example is the mixture of tetrabromoethane, which has a density of 2.96 gmL-1 with ethane, with a density of 0.789 gmL-1. Using varying proportions of each, from pure tetrabromoethane (bottom of the tube) to pure ethanol (top of the tube) provides a density gradient into which the soil specimen is added. The soil components then sink to the layers corresponding to their own density values and the distribution of particles can be compared between soil specimens. Carry out the analysis...
nductively coupled plasma coupled to mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analyses the elemental composition of the soil. The plasma is formed by argon gas flowing through a radiofrequency field where it is kept in a state of partial ionisation, i.e. the gas consists partly of electrically charged particles. This allows it to reach very high temperatures of up to approx. 10,000ºC. The sample being analysed is introduced into the plasma as a fine droplet aerosol. ICP-MS is the combination of an ICP with a mass spectrometer (MS). The ions generated by the ICP are directed into the MS, which separates the ions according to their mass-to-charge ratio. Thus, ions of a selected mass-to-charge ratio can be detected and quantitated.
The coupling of ICP-MS shows many advantages over other analysis techniques. Benefits of the ICP over other radiation sources include improvement in excitation and ionisation efficiencies and the reduction or elimination of many of the chemical interferences found in flames or furnaces. Mass spectrometry generates a large amount of information, has high throughput capabilities, high sensitivity and low limits of detection. ICP-MS is capable of multi-elemental detection which reduces analysis time and therefore increases sample throughput. ICP-MS is one of the few analytical techniques that permits that quantitation of elemental isotopic concentrations and ratios. It can achieve very low limits of detection (e.g. 1-10 ng L-1)
The geographical location of soil samples gives rise to variation in their elemental composition. Thus, soil samples can be compared to samples collected from their suspected sources of origin. Carry out the analysis...
Analysis and Collection of Soil Samples:
Written by Katherine Steck-Flynn
Back in the nineteenth century Edmund Locard developed the theory known as the "Locard's Exchange Principle." The theory in short states that when ever someone comes in contact with another object or person there is a minute exchange of particles that, in theory, can be traced back to a victim or suspect (Block 1999). In a crime context, that evidence can confirm or disprove a hypothesis of involvement between a suspect and a victim.
Locard described these particles as dust or dirt but today it is understood to include all soil borne trace evidence. Trace evidence can include blood, hair, fibre, dirt, glass particles and any other minute particles at a crime scene.
It would be nice to think that this forward thinker, Locard, moved beyond his Principle to developed the idea of soil analysis but he didn't. His mentor and friend Hans Gross published articles almost simultaneously with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes Fictions, regarding soil analysis (Block, 1999)( Nickel & Fischer, 1999) To Edmund Locard's great disappointment both Arthur Conan Doyle and Hans Gross beat him to the punch on the evaluation of soil as a forensic tool. However, Locard's zeal for the use of trace evidence in forensic investigations led to a life long study of the classification and identification of soil samples (Block, 1999).
Since its dawn in the late 1800's the analysis of soil has grown into a multidisciplinary field of forensic study. Modern analysis of soil may involve geologists, entomologists, toxicologists, biologists, botanists and a myriad of other experts.
Soil may be understood as just that: soil. As such it has a value in forensic studies. However, soil may also be understood as a repository for non soil contaminants which can yield valuable information about crimes. In forensic analysis materials can be grouped in several ways and each lab has its own way of subdividing these groups (Chayko & Gulliver 1999). In general soil borne materials can be considered organic or inorganic. Both types are found in soil. Further refining of these classifications where soil is concerned is to break the groups into mineral, biological or synthetic matter.
Soil is considered trace evidence. Soil is made up of disintegrated surface material which can be organic, mineral or synthetic. The ratio of the mineral content compared to other matter in the soil can be very site specific. The ratios of mineral, organic and synthetic matter can vary even with in a few feet (Chayko & Gulliver, 1999). Sandy soils look, feel and behave quite differently from clay soils or peaty soils. By profiling an array of characteristics of each soil, it is somtimes possible to attribute those characteristics to a specific location (Steck, 2004). Soil samples when properly taken can tell an investigator a lot about where a victim or suspect has been. Analysis of soil samples taken from vehicles can also tell an investigator about where a vehicle has been. Analysis of foot wear, clothing and tires can also place a suspect or victim in a particular location.
Collection of Samples
Collection of soil samples will depend on the circumstances of the crime. Indoor scenes will differ markedly from outdoor scenes in the type of evidence that can be recovered and the way in which these samples are collected.
At indoor scenes there may be footprints in soil or in dust. Samples made by footwear should be photographed to scale before being recovered. The particle samples can best be collected using a vacuum method. The samples can be vacuumed with a portable vacuum cleaner equipped with a special attachment. The attachment has a metal screen on which a filter paper is attached. The area is vacuumed and the filter is removed and labeled with the date, location, time and name of the technician who operated the vacuum. The vacuum must be thoroughly cleaned between samples. Cleaning can be fairly easily done with handhelds where the parts are easy to access. Reference samples from the surrounding area perhaps including flower gardens, points of entry and exit and alibi locations should also be taken.
Information on obtaining these specialized vacuum attachments can be obtained through Sirchie Laboratories Inc. in Youngsville N.C..
In the case of a break and enter or other crime at a home or business it is useful to know how the perpetrator entered the building. For example, if the perpetrator stood in a flower garden outside a window this indicates a stranger. If the perpetrator walked up the front lawn or to the back door this could indicate someone familiar with the property. Possibly the perpetrator knew no one was there being familiar with the owners habits. The soil on the shoes of a suspect (or left on a carpet or floor) can indicate the direction of travel and the mode of entry. This type of evidence is most useful when a suspect can be immediately identified before the soil is lost from the footwear.
Soil evidence from a victim or suspects clothing can indicate an association between victim and suspect. For instance, if a suspect lives in a particular neighborhood with a specific soil profile and this profile matches one found at a crime scene or on a victim, then one must suspect that the suspect left that sample at the scene.
"Double transfer" is even more convincing. If soil profiling to a suspects home territory is found on a victim or in their home and soil from the victims home territory is found on the suspects clothing or footwear the probability of the suspect having been at the crime scene increases dramatically. The mathematic probability of two matching profiles being found at both scenes by coincidence increases. For example the probability of transfer to one site occurring by coincidence might be 1 chance in 800. When double transfer has occurred the probability of that occurring by coincidence becomes 1 chance in 64,000 (Crocker, 1999).
Inorganic or manufactured matter found in the soil recovered from a suspect's footwear or clothing can be very site specific. Particles of glass, rubber and other industrial products can be used to link a suspect with a particular location. In the not-uncommon case of crimes at industrial locations this can be particularly useful.
How to collect Samples
As already mention in the indoor scene vacuuming can be used to collect samples. The methods of collection will vary from scene to scene. In a break and enter where house plants are found upset a sample of the soil may be used to link the suspect to a scene. Soil from the garden or yard can also be used to track the suspect's direction of travel and point of entry. Most garden soils are unique. The gardener in charge will have added some favorite materials (sometimes specific to particular plants) in order to improve the garden. The materials tend to be different in every garden. Some gardeners might use compost while others might prefer ammonium pellets, sand, peat or wood chips.
Samples taken from the interior of a vehicle can indicate many things. A soil sample from the gas or brake pedal of a vehicle can link a suspect to a location. Soil from a trunk or backseat can indicate digging. When graves are dug to hide bodies the various levels of the soil are disturbed. If the suspect lays a shovel on the back seat or in the trunk the soil from the lower levels of the grave may be deposited on the seat or in the truck. Soil from tools such as shovels should be preserved in the state it was found. The entire tool should be packaged in protective material then enclosed in plastic. Finally the entire tool should be placed in a wooden or cardboard box and transported to the lab.
Sampling methods may need to be adapted when the scene is outdoors. If the challenge is the recovery of remains, soil samples should be taken at regular intervals up to 100 yards from the gravesite or point of recovery (Saferstein, 2004). Usually a grid search is set up and samples can be taken from each square of the grid and labeled as to which grid it was taken from.
About a tablespoon of soil should be enough for most modern tests. Usually only the surface soil needs to be sampled. The exception to this is in the case of a buried body, In this case soil samples should be taken at regular intervals as the remains are exposed. After the remains are removed from the gravesite the bottom of the grave should also be sampled. It is important to note that a new shovel, spoon or other scoop must be used for each grid and sample. Should the same implement is used serially, uncleaned to recover sample then Locard's Principle is at work again and cross contamination will render your samples useless.
Samples should be placed in plastic vials for transport. If it is not possible to transport the samples immediately they should be allowed to air dry before transport.
A special note for gravesites is that if insect evidence is present the vials should be labeled in pencil rather than pen. The specimens will likely be preserved in alcohol which if it leaks onto the label will destroy ink from pens. Without the label as to the time and place of collection your sample is forensically worthless.
Outdoor scenes often involve vehicles. There are several ways of collecting soil samples from vehicles. Vehicles involved in accidents will sometimes leave lumps of soil from under the wheel wells and fenders on the road way. These lumps should be collected intact and wrapped in protective material to minimize bumping during transport. The purpose behind this is to preserve the layers that have built up to create this lump of soil. A soil analyst can read these layers and know where this vehicle has been. The analyst may also be able to match the layers in a lump of soil to a particular vehicle. I can't help but think this would have been very useful in tracking Ted Bundy or Henry Lee Lucas in their cross county travels.
Clothing and footwear should be collected intact. No attempt should be made to remove soil from clothing, footwear or tires. If these items can be removed intact they should be placed in a paper bag or enclosed in a druggist's fold and then placed in a paper bag. Care must be taken so that the paper bag is protected so that evidence is not lost through holes in the bag. Some evidence can be placed in plastic bags but is must be completely dry. Wet samples placed in plastic with quickly degrade and rot and become useless. Plastic does not "breath" to allow passage of moisture and air. Paper on the other hand will allow moisture to escape preventing rot.
Lumps of soil stained with blood, semen or other biological samples should be collected intact and transported to the lab as dry samples. Any samples containing suspected biological material such as blood, flesh, semen or hair must be clearly labeled so that the analyst at the lab can take precautions to preserve this material. Biological specimens in soil must never be heat dried.
The only time a sample should not be allowed to dry is when insect evidence such as maggots are present. In the case of maggots there is a very specific way of handling this evidence. Samples containing maggots can be placed in aluminum foil with a small piece beef liver and placed in a plastic container. There must be air available in the container. These samples must be sent to the lab immediately. The specimens can be placed in a thermally protected case such as a cooler. Attempts should be made to protect the samples from extremes of heat and cold. Never use dry ice with biological or entomological (insect) evidence.
In the Laboratory:
In the lab items from the victim and suspect should be examined separately. Ideally the items and samples from the victim and suspect should be processed in different rooms. The personnel handling these sample should be assigned to one or the other. If this is not possible then the person handling the material should take extreme care to avoid cross contamination of the samples.
The laboratory staff will evaluate the soil samples in several ways. First the mineral content will be tested. Some experienced analysts can moisten a sample and feel the soil. Based on feel alone they can tell the ratio of mineral and organic content. Microscopic examination of soil samples will subsequently reveal the type and nature of the mineral, biological and synthetic content of a sample.
Such talented analysts are not always available. Then, there are several standard testes which can identify the type and origin of the sample. The first and probably the most common is the density gradient tube. Two different liquids are added to a glass tube in various ratios. Each ratio represents a different density. The soil sample is poured into the tube. When the various particles reach a level in the liquid where their density is equal to the liquid the particles become suspended. This creates a unique profile of bands in the tube which can be matched to other samples.
The samples may also be tested using heat to test the point at which the sample will undergo an exothermic reaction or an endothermic reaction. The sample is heated in a special furnace to various temperatures. In an exothermic reaction the sample essentially burns and releases heat. In an endothermic reaction the sample will absorb the heat. Each sample from different locations will have these reactions at different temperatures according to the mineral, biological and synthetic content.
Electron microscopes can be used to reveal the crystalline structures of minerals and synthetic material in a sample of soil.
Nuclear Resonencing and Mass Spectometry are also methods which may be used in the Laboratory.
It is important that the crime investigators and the laboratory analyst communicate properly. Perhaps this happens best when the laboratory head is knowledgeable about investigations and is the contact person for investigators. The head can be briefed on the questions and issues of the case and then direct the laboratory personnel as to the direction of the inquiry. The investigators may want to know if sample #12 and sample #76 are similar. The laboratory head will then choose appropriate methods which express the similarity between samples. Once the questions and procedures are chosen everything depends on the integrity of the sample. If they have been collected with care and documented amply then the results from the laboratory can be trusted (Steck, 2004).
Take samples of all the soil in and around a crime scene. Place a reference sample in a plastic vial and label it with the date the time the investigators name and the case number. Reference samples are samples of soil from places the suspect or victim may have picked up soil. The reference sample can also be from sites the suspect may have been. Include the location and the distance from the focal point of the crime when labeling samples.
Reference samples should be about a tablespoon or so taken from less than a 1/2 an inch (about 1 cm). The exception is in cases of burial where samples should be taken every 1 inch (every 3cm). With gravesites the bottom of the grave should be sampled after the removal of the remains. Package and label all samples carefully. Keep in mind that the analysts in the laboratory do not have firsthand knowledge of the scene and the circumstances of collection. Try to provide a detailed description of the scene and the circumstances of the crime which the laboratory staff can use to determine what type of analysis is most appropriate.
Package all movable objects such as clothing, footwear and tools intact and protected from jostling.
Forensic Paint Analysis and Comparison Guidelines:
This document is intended to be a suggested revision to the original ASTM E1610-94 Guide. This revision is the product of the Paint Subgroup of the Scientific Working Group for Materials Analysis (SWGMAT). Its ultimate acceptance as an ASTM document will be the responsibility of ASTM Committee E-30 on Forensic Sciences. You are invited to submit constructive feedback on the Document Comments Form.
1.1. Forensic paint analyses and comparisons are typically distinguished by sample size that precludes the application of many standard industrial paint analysis procedures or protocols. The forensic paint examiner must address concerns such as the issues of a case or investigation, sample size, complexity and condition, environmental effects, and collection methods. These factors require that the forensic paint examiner must choose test methods, sample preparation schemes, test sequence, and degree of sample alteration and consumption suitable to each specific case.
1.2. This document is an introduction for the forensic examination of paints and coatings. It is intended to assist personnel who conduct forensic paint analyses in the evaluation, selection, and application of tests that may be of value to the investigation. The guidelines that follow describe methods to develop discriminatory information using an efficient and reasonable order of testing. The need for validated methods and quality assurance guidelines is also addressed. This document is not intended to be a detailed methods description or rigid scheme for the analysis and comparison of paints but a guide to the strengths and limitations of each analytical method. The goal is to provide a consistent approach to forensic paint analysis.
1.3. Some of the methods discussed in these guidelines involve the use of dangerous chemicals, temperatures, and radiation sources. This document does not address the possible safety hazards or precautions associated with its application. It is the responsibility of the user of these guidelines to establish appropriate safety and health practices and to determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.
2.0. Reference Documents
2.1. ASTM D16 Terminology Relating to Paint, Varnish, Lacquer, and Related Products1
2.2. ASTM D1535 Method for Specifying Color by Munsell System
2.3. ASTM E308 Test Method for Computing the Colors of Objects by Using the CIE System
2.4. ASTM E1492 Practice for Receiving, Documenting, Storing, and Retrieving Evidence in a Forensic Science Laboratory2
3.1. For definitions of terms used in these guidelines other than those listed, see ASTM D16 Terminology Relating to Paint, Varnish, Lacquer, and Related Products.1
3.2. Descriptions of Terms Specific to this Guide:
3.2.1. Binder: A nonvolatile portion of the liquid vehicle of a coating, which serves to bind or cement the pigment particles together.
3.2.2. Coating: A generic term for paint, lacquer, enamel, or other liquid or liquefiable material that is converted to a solid, protective, or decorative film or a combination of these types of films after application.
3.2.3. Discriminate: To distinguish between two samples on the basis of significant differences; to differentiate.
3.2.4. Discriminating Power: The ability of an analytical procedure to distinguish between two items of different origin.
3.2.5. Known Sample: A coating sample of established origin.
3.2.6. Paint: Commonly known as a pigmented coating.
3.2.7. Pigment: A finely ground, inorganic or organic, insoluble, and dispersed particle. Besides color, a pigment may provide many of the essential properties of paint such as opacity, hardness, durability, and corrosion resistance. The term pigment includes extenders.
3.2.8. Questioned Sample: A coating sample whose original source is unknown.
3.2.9. Significant Difference: A difference between two samples that indicates that the two samples do not have a common origin.
3.2.10. Additive (modifier): Any substance added in a small quantity to improve properties. Additives may include substances such as driers, corrosion inhibitors, catalysts, ultraviolet absorbers, and plasticizers.
4.0. Quality Assurance Considerations
4.1. A quality assurance program must ensure that analytical testing procedures and reporting of results are monitored by proficiency tests and technical audits. General quality assurance guidelines may be found in Trace Evidence Quality Assurance Guidelines (1).
5.0. Summary of Practice
5.1. Physical and Chemical
5.2. Questioned and Known
5.3. Motor Vehicle Identification
5.4. Sample Documentation
6.0. Significance and Use
6.1. These guidelines are designed to assist the forensic paint examiner in selecting and organizing an analytical scheme for identifying and comparing paints and coatings. The size and condition of the sample or samples will influence the selected analytical scheme.
7.0. Collection of Suitable Samples
7.1. The potential for physical matches between known and questioned samples must be considered before selecting the method of paint sample collection. Care should be taken to preserve the potential for a physical match.
7.2. Questioned Samples
7.2.2. Smeared transfers can exhibit mingling of components from several layers or films that could preclude application of some of the analytical methods discussed in these guidelines. Because of the difficulties associated with collecting smeared or abraded samples, the entire object bearing the questioned paint should be submitted to the laboratory whenever possible.
7.2.3. When contact between two coated surfaces is indicated, the possibility of cross transfers must be considered. Therefore, if available, samples from both surfaces should be collected.
7.3. Known Samples
7.3.2. The surface underlying the suspected transfer area should be included for analysis when possible. Adjacent sections removed from a wall, ceiling, door, window, implement handle, and automobile door, fender, and hood are examples of items that can be valuable for assessing questioned and known sample differences and for evaluating the possible cross transfer of trace materials.
7.3.3. Paint flakes can be removed from the parent surface by a number of methods. These include but are not limited to the following: lifting or prying loosely attached flakes, cutting samples of the entire paint layer structure using a clean knife or blade, or dislodging by gently impacting the opposite side of the painted surface. When cutting, it is important that the blade be inserted down to the parent surface. It should be noted that no one method of sampling should be relied upon exclusively.
[The entire page is 891 words long]
Glass Analysis - "Seeing through glass":
Article taken from Issue 2 of the Forensic Access Newsletter "Benchmark"
TAs a type of evidence glass can be very useful contact trace material in a wide range of offences including burglaries and robberies, hit-and-run accidents, murders, assaults, ram-raids, criminal damage and thefts of and from motor vehicles. All of these offer the potential for glass fragments to be transferred from anything made of glass which breaks, to whoever or whatever was responsible. Variation in manufacture of glass allows considerable discrimination even with tiny fragments.
Information from the Forensic Science Service indicated that 60% of cases involving glass provided some positive evidence and that in 40% of these cases this evidence was strong. Depending on circumstances, the findings can also refute the allegation that a person was involved in a crime.
For example, when a pane of glass is broken, minute glass fragments can be showered onto the hair, clothing and footwear of people in close proximity - at least 1.5 and possibly up to 3 metres away. The number of fragments transferred decreases rapidly with distance from the breaking pane. Aside from backwards projection of fragments towards the 'breaker', fragments can also be acquired, for example, by climbing through a broken window or treading on pieces of broken glass.
Fragments recovered from hair and clothing are generally in the range 0.25 - 1 millimetre (1mm = 0.039"). Most glass is lost fairly rapidly - depending on the activity of the wearer and the texture of their clothing. For example, a woollen jumper will tend to retain glass fragments for far longer than a leather jacket, although fragments can be trapped in pockets, in crevices on shoe uppers and remain embedded in shoe soles for long periods of time.
The results of surveys of the numbers and types of glass fragments found on the clothing of people selected at random shows that it is unusual to find more than a few fragments of glass from the same source on someone's clothing purely by chance.
Discriminating between different glasses
In addition, the surfaces of glass fragments will be microscopically examined for evidence of the method of manufacture and the type of object from which they came, for example, flat glass and patterned glass (both from window panes) or curved glass (drinking glass or bottle). Further tests may be performed to see if the source was of toughened glass (forming small cubes when broken and typically found in some car windows and in door and window glazing).
Interpreting what's found
Aside from databases, the forensic scientist will also need to consider for example, the number and distribution of the glass fragments he has recovered and whether this fits in with the alleged circumstances.
The finding of numerous fragments of glass on a suspect detained within a few hours of windows being broken may be very strong evidence, for example if the glass is unusual and/or there is more than one type of matching glass. On the other hand, less weight would be given to the presence of one or two fragments of a common type of glass found on clothing seized several days after an incident.
Finally, it is often suggested that fragments might be transferred between people who come into contact after the crime has been committed, for example when they travelled side-by-side in a police vehicle. Whilst in theory this is quite conceivable, the results of tests show that only one or two fragments at most are likely to be transferred in this way and only a few remain on the seat occupied by the contaminated person.
ALL THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW - FORENSIC PAINT ANALYSIS:
Paint is fun. It's colorful, which makes it a lot more interesting to look at than hairs and often fibers. It can be flat or fancied up with shiny metallic flake. It's surprisingly malleable, able to be flattened and smeared. Unfortunately, paint is also a Pandora's box of information-infinitely complicated and esoteric, impossible to fully understand. Paint is usually encountered in cases involving automobiles, although everything said here applies to wall paint, house paint and nail polish, as well. Hit-skip accidents or road-rage incidents can leave chips or smears of color behind, marking their passage.
In the old days (read: "Dragnet") paint was simple. All GM cars used lacquer, and all Fords used enamels, or something like that. Cut and dried. In our more modern age, paint exists in a spectrum of colors and compositions. Formulas are jealously guarded and change every year as manufacturers experiment and shop around for good deals.
The standard equipment for paint analysis is a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer. This machine sends a laser beam of light through a sample of paint which has been flattened to the point of transparency (or through a thicker sample using reflectance, or an ATR crystal-it really gets quite complicated). The sample might be one or two millimeters square-use a stereomicroscope unless you want to go blind. The point is, the FTIR produces a spectrum, which is a measurement of how much light is absorbed by the paint at different frequencies. It looks something like an EKG. The peaks and valleys on this spectrum tell the scientist what functional groups are present in the compound, say an -OH group, or a carbon-carbon double bond, or titanium dioxide.
The computer attached to the FTIR can then compare the spectrum produced by your paint to a library of spectra of other, known, samples. It will give you a list of spectra which most closely match yours-something like a computerized fingerprint system. Just like a fingerprint system, however, the computer is just a tool. The scientist must study the spectra and decide if they are similar.
Paint is applied to a car in layers. Starting at the metal, the first coat is called an electron coat, or e-coat. This is a very thin layer of dark gray. Then there is one or two coats of primer, usually a grainy gray or red-brown color. Then there is the color coat, the color you actually see when you look at the car. In most modern cars, there is a clearcoat over the color coat, which is, literally, clear. (This will turn white when you flatten it for the FTIR.) If the car has been repaired or repainted, there may be yet another layer of color and another layer of clearcoat. The more layers your unknown chip has in common with your known sample (say, from the suspect's car), the more compelling the evidence.
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Firearms examiners also conduct analyses dealing with toolmark identification, which involves the identification of a toolmark as having been produced by a particular tool. Though a tool can be thought of as the harder of two objects used to mark the softer object, a toolmark examination refers specifically to the analysis of an object used to gain a mechanical advantage (a more common definition of tool) and the objects bearing toolmarks or impressions from such use.
The conclusions reached by examiners analyzing toolmarked evidence are the same as those reached in firearms examinations: identification, exclusion, and no conclusion. With regard to tools, an identification signifies a match between two toolmarks or a match between a tool and evidence bearing toolmarks; a nonidentification denotes a lack of association between two items of evidencethe possibility that a tool produced a given mark or that two marks were produced by the same tool is excluded. No conclusion, as in the examination of firearms-related evidence, indicates insufficient corresponding microscopic characteristics and the consequent inability of the examiner to classify the evidence as either an identification or an exclusion.
Additional information on the forensic examination and identification of tools and toolmarks is available in the Toolmarks Examinations section of the Handbook of Forensic Services.
Disposition of Evidence
Before examiners conduct any of the specialized microscopic examinations involved in the identification of firearms and toolmarks, evidence submitted to the FTU is subject to preliminary processing. Physical science technicians are responsible for the inventory of incoming evidence and must verify that all items described by a contributor as having been sent to the Laboratory have actually arrived. FTU technicians label each piece of evidence as either a Q or a K, with Qs referring to questioned items and Ks denoting known specimens. Bullets, cartridge cases, shotshell casings, and other ammunition components are given Qs; firearms and tools are given Ks. All submitted items are individually marked with the appropriate Laboratory Number and listed on a worksheet that is maintained with the evidence for the duration of the case examination.
Evidence that must be examined by other units in the Laboratory prior to being examined in the Firearms-Toolmarks Unit is separated and distributed by the technician to those units as needed. When evidence does not require examinations other than those conducted by the FTU, the technician may begin preparing the submitted items for analysis following general case inventory. This preparatory handling may entail weighing and photographing specimens, researching printed literature on specific firearms and ammunition, writing notes on individual Qs and Ks, and microscopically measuring the general rifling characteristics of bulletscaliber, number of lands and grooves, and their direction of twist (right or left). Measurements of the latter defining features are made for known, test-fired specimens as well as for questioned bullets and can be compared to specimens in the General Rifling Characteristics (GRC) File, a computer database used to generate lists of firearms that could have produced such markings on fired ammunition.
Reference Collections and Databases
Known bullet and cartridge case specimens generated through water tank test firing are maintained in the Reference Fired Specimen File of the Firearms-Toolmarks Unit following case completion for future comparison purposes. During the course of FTU casework, technicians may also enter the serial numbers of questioned firearms into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, where they are checked against lists of serial numbers from weapons registered as being stolen.
The DRUGFIRE database allows examiners across the country to compare and link evidence obtained in the course of serial shooting investigations, especially those involving gangs and drugs. After test firing a weapon submitted as case evidence, FTU personnel can digitally capture and store images of bullets and cartridge cases using the DRUGFIRE system. These images can be compared to thousands of other images of bullets and cartridge cases entered by category and classification into the database by DRUGFIRE operators throughout the country. Hits are made when a system user finds a match between a specimen he or she added into the database and a previously filed specimen. With DRUGFIRE imaging, crimes committed in one locale can be tied to crimes committed elsewhere, and laboratories in many areas can access valuable forensic data.
Per agreement between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, all DRUGFIRE systems used in state and federal law enforcement will gradually be replaced with the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). The NIBIN system will perform the same functions as DRUGFIRE and is expected to be fully operational within the next two years.
To view footnotes click here they will appear in a seperate window.
In a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Florida, Ramirez v. State, a conviction was reversed because of the erroneous admission of testimony by a toolmark expert witness who had identified a particular knife as the murder weapon from a microscopic comparison of markings in a piece of cut cartilage. The expert's conclusion was backed up by four other experts for the State, but one expert for the defense testified that the methodology used by the chief State's expert was not generally accepted as reliable.
Below is an edited version of the Florida court's opinion, with most footnotes and internal citations omitted, and the remaining footnotes renumbered. It deserves noting that while Florida still adheres to the Frye test of "general acceptance," it measured this particular technique at least in part by how well the toolmark expert's technique did on the Daubert factors a practice that many Frye states now follow. In contrast with the Ramirez case, we follow its discussion with a Kansas case going the other way on almost identical facts. But the Kansas case was much older it was decided in 1982, before the revolution in the admissibility of expert opinion evidence that Daubert brought.
2001 WL 1628609, 27 Fla. L. Weekly S18
We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court imposing the death penalty on Joseph J. Ramirez following his third trial for the first- degree murder of a night courier. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We reverse the convictions and vacate the sentences for the same reason as before--i.e., the trial court erroneously admitted evidence based on the knife mark identification procedure of Robert Hart.
This is an appeal following the third trial of Ramirez for a 1983 murder. The prior reversals were based on the trial court's admission ("For the first time in the history of the Florida courts," as the first trial court put it) of testimony by Miami crime technician Robert Hart wherein he stated that, based on his knife-mark identification procedure, Ramirez's knife was the murder weapon to the exclusion of all others. The facts underlying the first trial are set forth in Ramirez v. State, 542 So.2d 352 (Fla. 1989) (Ramirez I ):
Hart's specific knife mark identification evidence played a crucial role in the trial:
This Court reversed the conviction, ruling that while the knife itself was admissible, Hart's testimony that this particular knife was conclusively the murder weapon was "self-serving" and inadmissible:
Prior to the second trial, the court conducted a hearing wherein Hart testified concerning the reliability of his identification theory and submitted an article he had written on the subject; Ramirez was not allowed to present opposing evidence at the hearing. The court ruled the State's evidence admissible, and Ramirez again was convicted and sentenced to death. This Court again reversed:
Prior to the third trial, the court conducted a hearing wherein the State presented the testimony of six experts to support Hart's identification methodology. The defense presented one expert in rebuttal. The trial court again admitted the evidence, and Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to death based on four aggravating circumstances, no statutory mitigating circumstances, and three nonstatutory mitigating circumstances, overriding the jury's nine-to three vote in favor of life imprisonment. Ramirez raises nine issues on appeal, but we find a single claim dispositive.
Ramirez asserts that the trial court erred in allowing the State's experts to testify that the knife found in Ramirez's car was the murder weapon to the exclusion of every other knife in the world. He contends that Hart's identification method is novel and untested and the State has failed to present sufficient proof of its reliability.
An expert witness is normally permitted to testify relative to generally accepted scientific theory in the witness's area of expertise. The witness's testimony is subject to the balancing test set forth in section 90.403, Florida Statutes (2000), which focuses on "legal" reliability and applies to all evidence. When a court is faced with expert testimony based on a new or untried scientific theory, however, the balancing test in section 90.403 is inapposite because the court may be unable to gauge accurately the danger of misleading or confusing the jury due to the unproven nature of the testimony. In such a case, "scientific" reliability must be established as a predicate to "legal" reliability.
A. "Legal" Reliability--The Balancing Test
Under the Florida Evidence Code, expert testimony is admissible if it will assist the trier-of-fact in his or her task:
All evidence, including expert testimony, is subject to the requirements of sections 90.401, 90.402, and 90.403, which address relevancy and reliability. Section 90.401 defines relevant evidence as evidence that is both probative and material:
All relevant evidence is admissible, unless specifically excluded:
Relevant evidence is excluded inter alia if it is unreliable under the balancing test in section 90.403:
In applying this balancing test, the court bars from the jury's purview evidence that is unduly prejudicial, misleading, or confusing--i.e., evidence that is "legally" unreliable. A trial court's ruling on a section 90.403 issue will be upheld on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.
B. "Scientific" Reliability--The Frye Test
Evidence based on a novel scientific theory is inherently unreliable and inadmissible in a legal proceeding in Florida unless the theory has been adequately tested and accepted by the relevant scientific community. The court in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C.Cir.1923), explained:
Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013, 1014 (D.C.Cir.1923) (emphasis added). This Court, in adopting the Frye test for use in Florida, pointed out the underlying reason for the rule:
In keeping with the State's burden in a criminal trial (i.e., the State must prove each element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt), this Court has continued to use the Frye test when evaluating novel scientific evidence proposed by the State even though the United States Supreme Court, in a civil case, has adopted a different rule1.
A trial court's ruling on a Frye issue is subject to de novo review, and the reviewing court must consider the level of acceptance at the time of review, not the time of trial. . . . This Court on review has applied the Frye test to determine the admissibility of various types of evidence.
III. KNIFE MARK EVIDENCE
Traditional "knife mark" evidence is a subgroup of the broad category of evidence commonly referred to as "tool mark" evidence. The theory underlying tool mark evidence, which is explained below, is generally accepted in the scientific community and has long been upheld by courts. Many of the analytical methods that were developed for use with tool marks in general have been applied to knife marks in particular and have similarly been accepted by courts. Hart's theory of knife mark identification, however, departs from traditional knife mark identification theory in significant ways, and the State has cited no appellate decision upholding his theory.3
A. Traditional Knife Mark Evidence
The term "tool mark" refers to the mark left by a hard material when striking a softer material, and such a mark generally falls into one of two classes, i.e., (1) an impression marking, or (2) a striation marking:
An identification procedure commonly used by tool mark experts is as follows: (1) the expert attempts to duplicate the original crime-scene mark by using the suspected tool to create a comparable mark on a similar test medium; (2) the test mark (i.e., the "exemplar") is compared to the original mark via microscopic examination; (3) patterns of impressions or groups of striations are matched up under a three-dimensional stereoscopic comparison microscope; (4) two dimensional photomicrographs (i.e., photos) of the comparison are taken for record purposes; and (5) if the marks are sufficiently similar, the expert may conclude that they were made by the same tool (i.e., the suspected tool). Marks left by various tools have been studied in this manner, including screwdrivers, chisels, wire-cutters, hammers, axes, and knives.
Unlike wood, metal, plastic, and other hard surfaces, human tissue is pliable and does not readily retain detailed marks. Thus, knife mark analysis in human tissue traditionally has been limited to a gross observation of the wound itself and a microscopic examination of the interior and exterior surfaces of the wound to detect alterations in the cellular structure of the tissue or the presence of fibers or other trace materials. From this analysis, an examiner may deduce, for instance, the general length, width, shape, or contour of the knife blade, and the presence of any foreign matter.
Specifically, courts have permitted experts to attest to the following: that a particular knife could have been the murder weapon; that a particular knife was consistent with the victim's wounds; that a victim's wounds were caused either by a particular knife or a knife similar thereto; and that a victim's wounds could not have been caused by a particular knife. On the other hand, courts have approached with caution an expert's testimony that a victim's wounds were caused by a particular knife.
B. Hart's Knife Mark Evidence
Hart's testing procedure is based on the premise that every knife blade is unique due to microscopic imperfections in the steel caused by the manufacturing process. These imperfections, he contends, leave lines--i.e., striations--when a knife is plunged into human cartilage, and because cartilage is a relatively firm material, as compared to human flesh, it retains the marks. The striations in the cartilage, i.e., the striation "signature," may be matched by a skilled technician to the imperfections in the blade of the knife that made the wound.
Hart employs the following technique: (1) he conducts a mock stabbing with the suspected knife in a test medium; (2) he separates the cut faces of both the incision in the exemplar and the incision in the victim's cartilage; (3) he makes a hard cast of the cut faces of both incisions; (4) he compares the casts under a firearms comparison microscope to match up the striations; (5) he makes a subjective determination concerning the degree of the match; and (6) if the marks are sufficiently similar--i.e., if the striation "signatures" are sufficiently similar--he concludes to a degree of scientific certainty that both incisions were made by the suspected knife to the exclusion of every other knife in the world.
According to Hart, a technician's ability to identify microscopic similarities in casts is developed by training and is passed on from one technician to another in the workplace. A "match" under his method is declared if there is "sufficient similarity" in the striated marks on the casts to eliminate the possibility of coincidence. This determination is entirely subjective and is based on the technician's training and experience; there is no minimum number of matching striations or percentage of agreement or other objective criteria that are used in this method. No photographs are made of the casts, Hart explained, because lay persons and those not trained in this procedure would be unable to understand the comparison process; similarly, no notes are made describing the basis for identification. Once a match is declared under his theory, no other knives are examined because an identification under this method purportedly eliminates all other knives in the world as possible sources of the wound. Under Hart's method of identification, a team of expert technicians trained by him would be virtually impossible to challenge notwithstanding the fact that his procedure is untested and yet to be accepted by the relevant scientific community. There is no objective criteria that must be met, there are no photographs, no comparisons of methodology to review, and the final deduction is in the eyes of the beholder, i.e., the identification is a match because the witness says it is a match.
IV. THE PRESENT CASE
At the pre-trial hearing below, the State presented the live testimony of Hart and four other tool mark experts,4 all of whom are or were at one time affiliated with law enforcement agencies, and one bite mark expert. The State's experts all testified in a manner that supported Hart's methodology. In counterpoint, the defense presented a single expert5 who testified that the validity of Hart's method has never been tested and that the underlying principle is suspect.
A. The Frye Hearing
After Hart explained the principle underlying his testing procedure for knife mark identification, he testified that Ramirez's knife was the murder weapon to the exclusion of all others:
The State's experts subsequently testified that the principles underlying Hart's testing procedure are generally accepted in the field.
One of the State's experts, Lonny Harden, testified that he too examined the evidence prepared by Hart in the present case and agreed with Hart that Ramirez's knife was the murder weapon to the exclusion of all other knives:
The defense expert, Dale Nute, on the other hand, testified that Hart's knife mark identification procedure has not been properly validated. Nute testified that because Hart's procedure applies to an unusual receiving material, i.e., cartilage, and involves a stabbing rather than cutting motion, it cannot be assumed that this method is as reliable as other tool mark comparisons. Nute further stated that it is not scientific to say "it was a match because I say so," as Hart does, rather than using objective criteria and articulating the bases for making an identification. At the conclusion of the Frye hearing, the court ruled that the evidence was admissible.
B. Hart's Method Fails the Frye Test
Although several of the State's experts testified that the underlying principle employed by Hart is generally accepted in the field, we conclude that this testimony standing alone is insufficient to establish admissibility under Frye in light of the fact that Hart's testing procedure possesses none of the hallmarks of acceptability that apply in the relevant scientific community to this type of evidence. This is particularly true in light of the extraordinarily precise claims of identification that Hart makes under his testing procedure--i.e., he claims that a "match" made pursuant to his method is made with absolute certainty. Such certainty, which exceeds even that of DNA testing, warrants careful scrutiny in a criminal--indeed, a capital--proceeding.
First, the record does not show that Hart's methodology--and particularly his claim of infallibility- has ever been formally tested or otherwise verified. At the Frye hearing below, the State submitted no substantive proof of scientific acceptance of such testing and its reliability. In fact, the only record evidence that even hints at general acceptance of Hart's testing procedure is a single published article describing an experiment wherein German forensic scientist Wolfgang Bonte examined the wounds left in cartilage by twelve different types of serrated-blade knives. Bonte, however, did not conduct a "blind" study; he was concerned only with documenting the relationship between the nature of the wound and the size and shape of the corresponding blade. Microscopic imperfections in knife blades-- i.e., the key to Hart's test--was a non-issue in the Bonte study; the Bonte blades were grossly dissimilar to one another.
Second, the record does not show that Hart's test has ever been subjected to meaningful peer review or publication as a prerequisite to scientific acceptance. At the Frye hearing below, the court reviewed two groups of published articles addressing knife mark evidence--one group North American,6 the other European.7 The North American articles were written by law enforcement technicians8 and while several of those articles address principles related to Hart's theory none undertakes the kind of searching, critical review that is the sine qua non of scientific acceptance.9 The European articles, on the other hand, were written by medical doctors and professors and are far more discerning; they delineate general studies and contain extensive analyses. The articles in that group, however, address only traditional knife mark theory relative to striation signatures. None address Hart's testing methodology and the absolute certainty of identification deduced from such a test.
The State's experts testified that the examining technician generally takes no photomicrographs of the casts because lay persons would be unable to understand the identification process.10 This testimony, however, is belied by the published articles in the present record. Each article- including Hart's own article--contains photos of the matching striae, and the photos are instrumental in confirming--for the reader--the validity of the "match." The State's experts further testified that they do not prepare notes or written reports delineating the basis for identification because to do so would not be helpful. Again, this testimony is belied by the record. The German articles, for instance, describe at length the matching points of identification and then relate those points to specific features of the corresponding knife blade, and these descriptions, too, are helpful in confirming the validity of the "match."
Fourth, the record does not show that the error rate for Hart's method has ever been quantified. On the contrary, the State's experts testified that the method is infallible, that it is impossible to make a false positive identification.11 Fifth, the record does not show that this method is governed by objective scientific standards. The State's experts repeatedly testified that the method is entirely subjective and that objective standards would be impractical.12 This testimony, however, is contrary to language in Hart's own published article wherein he refers to the existence of objective scientific standards used in assessing the degree of match in striation marks. And finally, the record contains no written authority--including Hart's own published article--that upholds his current methodology.
We conclude that the State has failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Hart's procedure is generally accepted by scientists active in the field to which the evidence belongs. In applying the Frye criteria, general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial experts or scientists. It is this independent and impartial proof of general scientific acceptability that provides the necessary Frye foundation. As we emphasized in Ramirez II, "the burden is on the proponent of the evidence to prove the general acceptance of both the underlying scientific principle and the testing procedures used to apply the principle to the facts of the case at hand." Ramirez II, 651 So.2d at 1168. We hold that while the knife that was recovered in Ramirez's constructive possession may be admitted as conventional evidence of guilt, testimony based on Hart's knife mark identification procedure, which we find to be new and novel, does not reach the threshold for admissibility under Frye and is therefore unreliable and inadmissible. Because this evidence played a key role in the trial below, the trial court's error in admitting the evidence was harmful beyond a reasonable doubt and requires reversal of the convictions.
V. OTHER ISSUES
In each of the three successive murder trials in the present case, police crime technician Robert Hart made the extraordinary claim that his newly formulated knife mark identification procedure was infallible. He contended that he could identify the murder weapon to the exclusion of every other knife in the world--even if there had been two million consecutively produced knives of the same type--based on a striation "signature" arising from microscopic imperfections in the steel of the blade. The trial court in all three trials admitted expert testimony based on Hart's testimony, and Ramirez each time was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Our review of the record convinces us that under the general acceptance test of Frye, the State has failed to prove that the testing procedure used to apply the underlying scientific principle to the facts has gained general acceptance in the field in which it belongs.
In sum, Hart's knife mark identification procedure--at this point in time-- cannot be said to carry the imprimatur of science. The procedure is a classic example of the kind of novel "scientific" evidence that Frye was intended to banish--i.e., a subjective, untested, unverifiable identification procedure that purports to be infallible. The potential for error or fabrication in this procedure is inestimable. In order to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system in Florida, particularly in the face of rising nationwide criticism of forensic evidence in general,13 our state courts--both trial and appellate--must apply the Frye test in a prudent manner to cull scientific fiction and junk science from fact. Any doubt as to admissibility under Frye should be resolved in a manner that minimizes the chance of a wrongful conviction, especially in a capital case.
Due to the trial court's error in admitting testimony based on Hart's knife mark identification procedure, we reverse the convictions for first-degree murder, armed robbery, and armed burglary with an assault and vacate the sentences. If the State opts for a fourth trial on these charges, the maximum sentence that can be imposed on Ramirez for a first-degree murder conviction is life imprisonment due to the jury's current life recommendation.
It is so ordered.
HARDING, ANSTEAD, PARIENTE, LEWIS and QUINCE, JJ., concur.
WELLS, C.J., concurs as to conviction and concurs in result only as to sentence.
State of Kansas v. Ronald D. Churchill
231 Kan. 408, 646 P.2d 1049 (1982)
Ronald D. Churchill was convicted by a jury in Johnson District Court of murder in the first degree, K.S.A. 21-3401. He appeals, raising a number of issues, most of which challenge the propriety of the admission of evidence.
On January 30, 1980, Mr. and Mrs. Kerry Halling, with their three children, lived in a second floor unit of the Oak Park apartment complex in Lenexa, Kansas. Mr. Halling left for work at a local bottling company at 4:30 o'clock that morning; a friend, David Stevens, who was staying with the Hallings, left the apartment around 5:30 o'clock a. m. As was his custom, Mr. Halling called his wife from work at approximately 9:15 o'clock a. m., and spoke with her briefly.
Mrs. Halling's mother, Teresa Peck, arrived at the apartment about 10:30 o'clock a. m. The oldest child, age three, told her that his mother was sick. Mrs. Peck went to the bedroom and found her daughter lying on the floor. Mrs. Halling had been subjected to a savage knifing, and had been stabbed twelve or thirteen times; some of the wounds extended completely through her torso. The physician who performed the autopsy later that day found that Mrs. Halling could have died either from the stab wounds, which severed her aorta, or from strangulation.
Ronald D. Churchill and Robert Mall lived together in the same apartment complex, one floor below the Halling apartment. During the investigation, the police discovered that the defendant had been seen walking around the building with his dog earlier that morning; he had at one time been within a few feet of the front door of the Halling apartment. Detective John Meire, investigating the homicide, went to the apartment occupied by Churchill and Mall about two hours after Mrs. Halling's body was discovered. He was making an area canvass. Churchill answered the door and in response to Meire's questions stated that he had been outside four or five times that morning, once quite close to the victim's apartment. He had seen and heard nothing unusual, and had seen no strangers. Mall stated that he had been sleeping and didn't see or hear anything.
Later, Detective Meire heard from another officer that during the 9:15 o'clock telephone conversation, Mrs. Halling asked her husband to bring some grape soda pop for the two men in apartment 114, Churchill and Mall. Meire, accompanied by Detective Allen Harris, returned to apartment 114 about 1:30 o'clock p. m. Churchill and Mall invited them to come inside, and they did so. After some conversation, Meire asked Churchill if they had any large knives in the apartment; defendant replied that they had some knives; the detective and Churchill went into the kitchen. Churchill opened a drawer and picked up a large knife. Meire took it from him, noted that it appeared similar in size to the one used in the homicide, and asked Churchill if he would mind if the detectives took it with them. He said, "No." He also said that he had washed the knife that morning. Mall had worked the night before, arrived home at 8:15 o'clock a. m., and then slept until afternoon.
The knife and a doorknob from apartment 114 were subjected to laboratory examination. Human blood was found under the wooden handle of the knife; it matched the blood of the victim. A small amount of blood was found on the doorknob; it was consistent with Mall's blood, but the amount found was not large enough so that a full test could be run.
Michael Kelty, an experienced firearm and toolmark examiner with the Johnson County Criminalistics Laboratory, examined both the knife taken from the Churchill-Mall apartment, and the sternum of the victim. He expressed the opinion that the cuts in the victim's breastbone were made by the knife.
Churchill and Mall were arrested about 6:00 o'clock p. m. on February 1, two days after the homicide, and both were taken to the Overland Park police station where they were placed in separate rooms. Defendant was questioned by Detective Ellen Hanson. Around 9:00 o'clock p. m., another officer told Detective Hanson that Mall had not passed a polygraph examination. Churchill overheard this report, became very upset, and later asked to be left alone for a few minutes. He said he wanted to do the right thing. He couldn't understand why Mall didn't pass the polygraph test, and stated that he was certain that Mall had not committed the crime. Detective Hanson stepped out of the room. When she returned, Churchill told her that he had killed Mrs. Halling; that he wanted to do the right thing and that he did not want anybody else to take responsibility for what he had done. He then proceeded to confess the crime in considerable detail. The confession was written and was also tape recorded. The trial court determined that the statement was voluntary and admitted it into evidence. The tape recording was played for the jury at both of defendant's trials. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, the second in his conviction.
Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress the confession
* * *
Defendant next contends that the trial court erred in admitting, over objection, the opinion testimony of Michael Kelty, the firearm and toolmark examiner. It is well established that the qualifications of expert witnesses and the admissibility of expert testimony are matters which lie within the sound discretion of the trial court; its rulings upon such testimony will not be disturbed on appeal, unless the appellate court finds an abuse of discretion.[Citations omitted.]
Mr. Kelty had been employed for many years as a toolmark and firearms examiner; he had made hundreds of toolmark comparisons and had testified frequently as an expert during that period of time. He testified that he had not previously performed tests to determine whether marks upon the human body were made by a given tool, but he testified that toolmark examinations in human tissue were conducted by the same procedures and governed by the same principles applicable generally in toolmark examinations, and that the procedure used was acceptable in his profession. It would appear from the record that he has the requisite skill and training to perform the tests, and that the methods used were reliable. The defendant presented expert testimony to the jury in order to call into question Kelty's methods and conclusions. The witness's experience or lack of experience in previously performing similar examinations goes to the weight of the testimony, not to its admissibility. [Citation omitted.]
* * *
The judgment is affirmed.
Additional Articles in Identification Evidence.......
Friction Ridge Evidence:
Creating A Record on Critical Fingerprint Scholarship? New 06/16/07
Handwriting and Forensic Document Examination:
Palmprint and Handwriting I.D. Satisfy Daubert Rule
Bite Mark Identification:
Firearm and Toolmark Evidence:
Lip Prints, Ear Prints, and Other Less Well-known Marks:
Alphonse Bertillon and Ear Prints
Miscellaneous Identification and Biometric Evidence:
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