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Another Forensic Science Debacle, Another Teaching Moment

forensic science

Grades Matter                                                                    

I read with interest the article from the Austin American-Statesman, “Bad grades, lapses in hiring process doomed Austin’s crime lab leader.”  The short version is, the Austin police department sought a new “chief forensics officer” to restore their currently closed DNA lab.   Scott Milne, who appears to have a bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry, was hired to do the job.  (No, the fact that they hired someone who appears to only have a bachelor’s degree to reopen a forensic DNA lab was not the story!)                                                                                                                                                                   

Milne has now been put on leave, after a review of his college transcripts revealed poor grades, including an F in analytic methods in forensic science and a D in forensic microscopic analysis.  Milne also appears to have been forced to withdraw from the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Canada due to academic reasons.  One might have thought that such a record would preclude one from getting a job in forensic science.  One would be wrong.  Milne worked at the Arizona Department of Public safety for 13 years, including some time as a supervisor.  He then worked at the Colorado Springs Police Department for several years.

Discovery Demands

As I read the article, I reflected on my 18 plus years of criminal defense work, as well as my 2 plus years as General Counsel for a crime lab.  While I regularly vetted the CV’s of experts and crime lab analysts, I don’t believe I have ever asked for transcripts.  I have trained lawyers around the world on the importance of vetting the CV.  Not once did a participant share with the audience their practice of also routinely asking for transcripts.  Nor, might I add, did any lawyer request transcripts for any of the analysts during my tenure at the lab. Obviously, this was an oversight.

A New Line of Questioning

Milne’s case demonstrates the need for even greater vetting of analysts.  He can’t be the only crime lab employee who failed analytic methods in forensics.  Lawyers, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, be advised: the crime lab possesses the transcripts of their analysts.  They are maintained as part of quality control.  It’s time to update the discovery demand. . .

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