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Controversy at NY State Police Lab Results in Lawsuit, Call for Outside Investigation

Mon, 02/22/2016 - 12:04pm
Seth Augenstein, Digital Reporter

Via the NYSP Facebook pageThree scientists at the New York State Police laboratory have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they were targeted because they questioned long-running DNA testing practices that could have affected criminal cases over a number of years.

Now the state capital’s largest newspaper is calling for an official investigation into the explosive claims.

The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court by Shannon Morris, Melissa Lee, and Kevin Rafferty. The three forensic scientists allege federal civil rights violations and gender-based discrimination. It also accuses the former lab supervisor of promoting DNA analysis focusing on a single suspect, subjectively building a case against that person, despite the quantitative genetic results.

The three had been trained with the method using the TrueAllele software, a complex program touted to provide more-accurate probabilities of DNA samples, particularly those with mixed samples from multiple people.

The three were among 15 suspended last April by the State Police. Authorities had alleged that the analysts had cheated by working cooperatively on their exams. Two have since left, according to The Albany Times-Union.

“The lab has and will continue to review evidence as requested by prosecutors,” Beau Duffy, NYSP director of public information, told Forensic Magazine last April. “No discrepancies have been found.”

The Times-Union called for a full investigation helmed by the state Legislature, in a Monday morning editorial entitled “A mystery at the state lab.”

READ MORE: DNA Mixture Calculation Method Just ‘Random Number Generator,’ Says New Study

“It isn’t a stretch to imagine that the state would be reluctant to probe deeper into this,” the editorial board writes. “The potential fallout is vast: Untold numbers of convicts challenging evidence and appealing their cases. Courts and district attorneys overwhelmed. And the state’s premier law enforcement agency tainted.

“The suit raises the disturbing question of whether the state’s own investigation into cheating was cover for an even deeper scandal – to silence people who were raising questions about whether defendants have been wrongly convicted,” they add.

The cheating allegations were first made two years ago, after a three-month internal investigation, according to the Times-Union. The NY State Police canceled their contract with Cybergenetics in the fall. 

The company’s founder, Mark Perlin, spoke at length with Forensic Magazine in 2015. He said the traditional method of Combined Probability of Inclusion, or CPI, is “just a random number generator” that can lead to inaccurate results.

A competing software called STRmix also touts an ability to produce more accurate population-level estimates, and has been in use in some courtrooms in the U.S.

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