Forensic Science: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Forensic Science: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

JOHN OLIVER:Crime.You know that thing that was
almost solved -by a flasher dog in 1980’s.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) But specifically this story
is about how we increasingly solve crimes
using forensic evidence. It’s that thing that
is just a staple of TV crime shows. Pull it from the torso
on the left. Pull it from
the boat on the right. Two hearts beat as one. Matches up perfectly. -(DISTORTED SOUND)
-That’s a match. -(COMPUTER BEEPS)
-MAN 1: We’ve got a match. MAN 2: And it just found
us a match. WOMAN 1: Visible match. -WOMAN 2: We’ve a match.
-Match. MAN 3: Were you able
to determine which monkey bit him? The bite marks match those of the monkey found
at the scene. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-Wow! That last one was presumably from one of the crossover
episodes where the team fromLaw & Order,worked a case with the cast
of Monkey Law and Monkey Order. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING) on TV and in real life
forensic science plays an important role
in criminal convictions. Prosecutors often complain
about a so called C.S.I. effect, where jurors expect to see
forensic evidence in every case. The problem is,
not all forensic science is as reliable as we’ve become
accustomed to believe. A report in 2009, by the National Academy
of Sciences found that many forensic scientists do not meet the fundamental
requirements of science. And a report last year by a Presidential Science
Council agreed saying that, “expert witnesses have often
overstated the value of their evidence,
going far beyond what the relevant science
can justify,” and that’s the thing here. It’s not that
all forensic science is bad, ’cause it’s not, but too often, it’s reliability
is dangerously overstated and one sign of that is that
forensic experts in court are often nudged to use one
very convincing phrase. MAN 4: To a reasonable degree
of the scientific certainty… To a reasonable degree
of scientific certainty… MAN 5: To a reasonable degree
of the scientific certainty… Within reasonable
scientific certainty… To a reasonable degree
of scientific certainty… MAN 6: Are you able to say that
within a reasonable degree -of the scientific certainty?
-Yes. And here’s the thing that phrase does have a persuasive ring
to it. Unfortunately, as that Presidential Council
pointed out, it has no generally accepted
meaning in science. It’s one of those terms
like, basic or trill that has no commonly
understood definition. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-Am I trill? Is that good or bad? I mean I do feel trill,
so I’m guessing it’s awful. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-And– when bad science is confidently presented,
terrible convictions can happen. In fact, among the hundreds
of people who have been exonerated
by DNA testing since 1989, in nearly half of their cases, there was some misapplication
of forensic science and there are people
behind those numbers. Take Santae Tribble, who was
convicted of murder and served 26 years.
In large part, thanks to an FBI analyst
who testified that his hair matched hairs found
at the scene. And as he will tell you, the evidence was presented,
as being rock solid. They said they matched my hair in all microscopical
characteristics.And that’s the way
they presented it to the jury
and the jury took it for granted
that, that was my hair. But you know, I can see,
why they did. Because who other
than an FBI expert would possibly know
that much about hair? Except of course, whoever stalled Amanda Seyfried
at the 2009 Oscars. Breath taking waves, without loosing
any of their body or bounce. -Stunning.
-(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING) Stunning! Stunning! Stunning!
Stunning! Stunning! Stunning! (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) The jurors in Tribble’s case,
were actually told there was one chance
in ten million that it could be someone
else’s hair, and guess what? He was exonerated. Because once DNA analysis became
available, his lawyer tested the thirteen hairs from the case and not only were
none of them his, some of what they found
was incredible. SANDRA LEVICK:Nine of the
hairs had come from the
same source,
a couple had come
from different sources and one was a dog. INTERVIEWER: Two different
FBI agents who had, eh, looked at that and analyzed it,
didn’t recognize that it was -dog hair?
-It was a K9. It was a domestic dog, yes. My personal conclusion was, -the dog committed the crime.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Okay. So, first, it is amazing that
he is able to laugh at that, but second, if a dog did
commit the crime there’s really no recourse there
because there is actually no law against dogs committing murder and that’s a fact
that learned inAir Bud 9,Fuck the Paw-lice!-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-And– it turns out, Tribble is not the only case
where FBI experts overstated their confidence
in their results. NEWSCASTER:
The Innocence Project
and the National Association
of Criminal Defense lawyers
found from the 1970’s
through 1999,
in 268 cases where FBI hair
analysis led to a conviction,
257 or 96 percent of them
had errors in analysis.
-Oh, it gets worse because nine of those defendants
had already been executed, -(AUDIENCE SWOONING)
-which is horrifying. And you would expect
FBI hair analysis to have a high rate of accuracy
than your friend’s hair analysis of you can
totally pull off bangs, -because you can’t,
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) you absolutely can’t,
believe me I couldn’t, just learn– -learn from our mistakes kids.
-It’s too late for me. -(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING)
-And look, it’s by no means, just microscopic hair
comparison which has had the reliability
of these results overstated. Those reports that
I showed earlier suggests there is weak scientific support for some aspects
of techniques like a blood pattern, footwear,
firearm and bite mark analysis. And you must be familiar
with that last one from cool scenes like this: A little 3D magic for clarity
and I give you the killer’s incisors. (COMPUTER BEEPING) Oh, Yo! The computer rated
it “Yellow rectangle.” And we all know yellow rectangle
is the highest level of match a computer can
give you about teeth. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Look, in the real world,
bite mark analysis is highly subjective
and unreliable. The President’s Council found
the entire discipline, does not meet
the scientific standards for foundational validity. Which I believe, is science
speak for “Bullshit!” But people have been sent
to prison on the basis of bite mark
testimony by experts like, Dr. Michael West. The science of bite marks
analysis, is very accurate. NARRATOR 1:When it comes
to bite marks,
West consider himself
“The maestro.”
He’s found bite marks
on a decomposed body
submerged in a swamp,on a corpse that had been buried
for more than a year.
He’s even used a bite marktaken out of a bologna sandwich
to get a conviction.
Now, that sounds impressive
matching a killer’s teeth to a bite mark
in a bologna sandwich, although, you should know
that the defendant in that case, got a new trial
after an autopsy report found that the murder victim had actually eaten
a small amount of bologna consistent with the amounts
bitten off the sandwich. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-So, that sandwich, was irrelevant to the case. In fact, you could even argue
that it was actually Dr. West, who was full of, say it with me, -shit.
is not the only issue that has arisen
from his testimony. There are now five cases where he testified
for the prosecution and where the charges
were dropped or the conviction was
later over turned and even West himself has admitted that
he no longer believes in bite mark analysis
for identifying perpetrators and he doesn’t think it should
be used in court. And yet, incredibly, every time a defendant
has challenged its validity the court has
ruled it admissible. And a key reason for that is that judges often rely
on precedent to decide what to allow
in front of a jury. So, if a particular discipline
has been in court before it is likely that a judge
will admit it again. All of which means
that as the co-founder of the Innocence Project
points out, decisions about the validity
of science are being made by people who don’t necessarily
know much about it. Historically, we had
a situation where, two scientifically
illiterate lawyers argued the bonafides
of scientific evidence before a scientifically
illiterate judge, so the 12 scientifically
illiterate jurors could decide the weight
of that evidence. And if you think about it,
that’s absolutely terrifying. Trials can often be a situation
when no one really knows
what they are doing. It’s like a cooking competition
for toddlers, hosted by a stray cat
and judged by goats. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-Oh. The tuna was under cooked and covered
in cold spaghetti sauce. You then for some reason cover the whole dish
in honey nut cheerios. -I loved it.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) And look, none of this
is to say, that there is not reliable
forensic science out there. Finger prints and DNA are obvious examples but while
we think of them as perfect, it is important to know they are by no means infallible. The FBI has found
fingerprint analysis could have a false positive rate as high as one error
in 306 cases. And a dramatic example of this came after the Madrid’s
train bombings in 2004 when the FBI arrested this
Oregon man, Brandon Mayfield. He had never even
been to Spain in his life. But, three separate examiners,
matched his finger prints to one on a bag of detonators.
So, he was at that point, completely fucked! Until, investigators happen
to determine that, that fingerprint actually
also matched someone else who was in Spain at the time
and that blew the minds of finger print experts. MARK ACREE:
We always assume
that finger prints
are very very unique,
but what the Mayfield case
demonstrates, is that
parts of a fingerprint
can be so similar, it’s possible
for two people to beidentified to one print.That’s true. It turns out that two people
can have finger prints that are so close that even
experts can’t tell them apart. Meaning that we are
now this close to finally proving my theory.
There is only one Olsen twin. She’s just moving very fast -back and forth.
-(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING) She confuses your eye. Now, I don’t know how this
new information helps me, yet, but when it does, the end is–
No! You frauds! You frauds! (AUDIENCE APPLAUDING) And then– there is DNA, which is the gold standard
in forensic science for a reason because in perfect conditions it’s seen as the most reliable
form of evidence, but not all DNA tests are equal and crime scenes can produce DNA
of widely varying quality. NARRATOR 2:DNA is very fragile
and easily mixed up
at a messy scene.BRAD HART:So, imagine you come
across a crime scene.
You may have a pool of blood but it may not just be
one person’s blood, right? The more contributors to that–
mixture of DNA the more difficult it is,
to determine, whose DNA it was.Whose blood it was.Exactly, it can be difficult
to tell whose blood is whose, in a large pool of blood,
which is coincidentally, the premise
of my new game show. So, you think you can tell
whose blood is whose in a large pool of blood? It premieres on Tuesday night
and apparently, -it’s already been cancelled.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) But the problem here is, lower quality DNA samples are
sometimes presented to juries as if they are highly reliable.
In 2003, a prosecutor in a double murder
told the jury that the odds, the defendant’s DNA match
the glove found at the scene by chance,
was one in 1.1 billion. So, that’s pretty
strikingly impressive, but it turned out the glove
actually contained at least three people’s DNA
and a later analysis put the odds closer,
to one in two. And you know what?
That’s close enough isn’t it? People do confuse the numbers 1.1 billion
and two all the time. That’s why I’m always
mistakenly saying that my favorite R&B group
is Boyz 1.1 Billion Men. (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) And on top of all of this
there is one more fact that can be impossible
to detect. And it concerns the relationship
between law enforcement and the forensic labs themselves
because you would hope that those labs would work
independently taking in evidence and spitting out results.
But many labs work closely with law enforcement
knowing details of the case that they are
working on which can prejudice their work
even subconsciously. Sometimes
it’s not intentional fraud but rather, something, um,
much more, uh, inadvertent. Uh, which is the kind of bias that can come from feeling like
you’re part of a side part of a team, that you–
you’re part of– you’re attached
to the prosecution and you wanna get, uh,
get the bad guy. Yeah, but that’s not their job! At all! They are supposed
to be neutral. If a referee,
started participating in a team’s end zone
celebration, you’d have some serious
fucking questions, like, why have you picked
a side? And, how long you’ve been
practicing the dirty bird? (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) So, clearly here a lot needs
to be fixed and some states have stepped up.
One has done a lot. Including passing a first
of its kind Junk Science law. Which enables convicts
to request a new trial, if the sides used to convict
them was flawed, and that sounds great and the pioneering state that did
that by the way, -was Texas.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Yes, I know! -Texas!
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) You don’t expect Texas
to lead the nation in science-related criminal
justice reform. You expect them to lead
the nation in remembering the Alamo or naming
their children “Football.” (AUDIENCE LAUGHING) “I love you Football but if you
ever forget the Alamo -we are done.”
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) Now, sadly, at the federal level progress has been slow.
Although, one group, the National Commission
on Forensic Science has tried to fix that.
They were founded to advise the DOJ on how
to address many of the problems, that you’ve seen tonight. And their most recent meeting, featured powerful remarks
from Keith Harward, who spent 33 years in prison for a crime that
he did not commit based on faulty
bite mark evidence. Some would say, “Well you’re
a free man,” well… I will never be free of this. There’s no possibility–
Excuse me if I get emotional. That… I spent more than half my life
in prison… behind the opinions… and the expert egos… of two Odontologist. There’s a death penalty case
in Pennsylvania that’s going on now and the judge
is going to allow bite mark evidence. How many people have to be wrongly convicted
before they realize that this stuff’s all bogus? It’s all– made up. That’s a good question and it’s also the kind of speech that could really inspire
that commission to do a lot of good work.
Unfortunately, that was actually their
final meeting because the commission
was shut down in April by Attorney General and xenophobic boss baby,
Jeff Sessions. And know what? That shouldn’t really surprise
you anyways. Sessions is a former prosecutor and he does seem like the kind
of guy who watchedDead Man Walkingand was
like, hurry up! Let’s kill the guy already! This movie should be called,
“Dead Man Dilly Dallying”. Let’s go people, let’s go! So, we may honestly be actively
going backwards on this issue, which is dangerous, because not only are innocent
people getting convicted, guilty criminals are being left
on the streets as a result. And if this administration
does not see this as a problem then we should
at the very least, do more to educate
potential jurors about some of the short comings
in our system and one small way to do that,
might be this: NARRATOR 3:In this city,-when the heat rises…
-(SIREN WAILING)so does the murder rate.♪ (ROCK & ROLL MUSIC PLAYING) ♪ Alright everybody, let’s get
this stuff back to the lab. Hey chief, no need.
Look what I found, bite mark. Bologna sandwich. Now, that’s what I call… -“Dead meat.”
The fuck is wrong with you? Dead meat? This is a murder. -That’s a human person.
-That is his wife over there. -You’re a fucking asshole.
He’s a crime solver,
who doesn’t like to play
by the rules.
I’m getting something on these
bite marks here, but it’s far from conclusive. Would you say
there’s a reasonable degree of scientific certainty? No. -That’s meaningless.
-Right. NARRATOR 3:And that’s a problemfor absolutely everyone
around him.
Chief, the hair matches
the victim’s wife. Case closed. Slow down. Microscopic hair comparison
is bullshit science. Chief, I ran a mitochondrial DNA test
on those hairs. The wife did it right?
Case closed. Actually, there were five hairs. -Three were from… a coconut.
-And two were from… the wife. One was
from a Cabbage Patch Kid and the remaining one was from– -The wife.
-This Golden Retriever. There’s our killer
right there, Chief. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-The victim was shot. -How can a dog fire a gun?
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -That’s a bad dog right there.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) And he’s about to face some… “Woof” justice. We’re in doors. Fuck you. NARRATOR 3:And he won’t stop
asking the hard questions.
How ’bout a certainly reasonable
science degree to– No. Yeah, okay. NARRATOR 3:Because
he’s passionate about his job.
Despite not fully understanding
what that job is.
If we don’t have something solid
by tomorrow, D.A. is gonna have my ass. Why would the D.A.
have your ass? We don’t work for the D.A. -What?
-We don’t work for the D.A. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
-You do understand that, right? Please, tell us
you understand that. -Well, yeah.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) I understand that.
Totally. NARRATOR 3:Oh, there’s no way
he understands that.
Because this guy, will not quit.How about
a certainly reasonable– -Stop talking.
-Okay. -Keep up the good work.
-Okay. NARRATOR 3:And even when
his team abandons him
he’s not afraid to call
for back-up.
-This better be good.
-Oh, it is. I brought in some extra help. Expert witnesses to help
lock in this case. Take a look. We got,
the Forensic Dentist, Twin Boy Detectives, an old timely prospector
with a divining rod, sack full of magic eight balls, and the county’s foremost
crime sniffing pony. -(PONY WHEEZING)
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) None of this is admissible
in court. Actually, three of them have
testified in court before and they all got convictions. Is that the bologna
evidence sandwich? Oh my God! NARRATOR 3:
CSI, Crime Scene Idiot.

100 thoughts on “Forensic Science: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

  • The government and All the big corporations that have ruined this planet now want to tax all of us?

  • I watched this a couple years ago and then went to a police station in new zealand to look at their forensics dept because i work for the mortuary. The fingerprint analysists are not sworn police officers so that they can remain impartial and are not working for the police. Their lab isnt in the same building. It means they arent "going against their own work collegues or who they work for" when on the stand. We also learnt how they get the fingerprints off of items. I also learnt about police forensic photography which was just super interesting.

  • Whoa, Trill is an planet and alien race on Star Trek, the race has both a human-type form and a symbiont that shares the host Trill's body. #duh #StarTrek


  • The forensic analyst are not experts in the field they are judging, they are experts in making something look and sound like evidence even when it is just their creation or guess. Fingerprint forensics is taught as something definitive but it is actually like looking at a cloud and claiming it is a unicorn. And they are motivated to side with the police who they work for, and make their skill seem critical by trying to reinforce what they do as science so their job continues to exist. No one is there to do what is right, they are out for themselves.

  • I really need this fake show to be a real show right now.
    I need to binge watch it and so can’t do that until it’s made.

  • John – Please put together a CSI-Law & Order Civil Asset Forfeiture Combo Show as a replacement to Game of Thrones. The opening is there and it's up to you to make it happen. Plan for Fall 2019 please!

  • If you ever hear someone say something along the lines of "it's better to punish the innocent unjustly than to let the guilty to go free" point out to them they are essentially saying "it's better to let the guilty go free than to let the guilty go free."

  • Watching this while working on my case report for my forensic analytical science paper for uni. This is how I spend my time now.

  • People seem to be lacking basic practicality. Instead, they have super-skills or zero practical understanding. I want to know why. What is this issue for real? This isn't evolution or a progressive age. It de-evolution and a dark age.

  • My husband was an attorney, and he told me about a case where the prosecution had said with absolute certainty that the defendant had cut the ropes used to bind the victim, with a knife found in the kitchen, and that no other item could have been used. My husbands client leaned over and whispered 'we didn't use a knife, we used scissors'.
    My husbands best advice when you are arrested: Say nothing, wait for a lawyer, don't agree to any testing (or take any drinks). It's all bullshit.

  • "if we don't have something solid by tomorrow, D.A.'s gonna have my ass."
    "why would the D.A. have your ass? we don't work for the D.A."
    "the D.A. is gonna have my ass ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)"

  • Wow, John, so negative on this one. You really come across as more biased when you leave out all the once-respectable methods we have already debunked and thrown out of the courts. Forensic evaluations like the swimming test, which required the accused to be stripped and bound before being thrown into a lake to see if they float, or pricking tests, which were once considered to be a very reliable means of detecting a witch's mark.

  • Jeez messing up a Burger at McD's is one thing, but messing up on forensics on a murder case?? Incompetence & Arrogance.

  • I am happy that gave time to the topic. But you should have given credits to Netflix's exhibit A

  • CSI-"Crime Scene Idiots". Pricelss. I've worked with an atty in Dallas that's on the Innocence Project. They've gotten over 20 guys off death row. That's really saying something for TX because they have some real idiots in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system here. Always remember the next time you're on a jury that is always better to let a guilty man go free than to take away the liberties of an innocent man. Its called reasonable doubt.

  • two years later and it looks like it's this segment that's full of… say it with me

  • I hate that he makes me laugh so much. He's a comedy treasure truly. But….didn't adam ruins everything cover this first? along with a few other of his episodes…..

  • Hey, to any of my fellow Canadians out there who think we need to get the death penalty back in our country to get people who are thinking about committing serious offenses to not do them…this is the exact reason we abolished it in the first place. Why would we legally kill someone if there's a chance that we might very soon find out he was 100% innocent all along? (never mind all the moral and philosophical ramifications)

  • "monkey law and monkey order" would be an amazing show for hbo. also the one of identifying blood in a pool and also the crime scene idiot. LOL

  • Everyone assumed that Biden sniffing hair
    was creepy… I'm now assuming that he's an FBI robot, sent out to test as many samples as possible.

  • And yet, plenty of bigoted idiots spread that 17/90 or whatever the heck it is crap talking about African Americans committing violent crime…….

  • Aye man….get a confession and if they don't confess with the shit they know they did by all means DEATH if you are stupid enough to put your on the line for something you alleged to have committed if you did and you know they caught you and you know you did it confess if not fuck your life

  • …take the face of this detective in 'Crime Scene Idiot' and put
    Trump's in its place…you'll have the perfect match…I didn't mention
    changing the voice, because even the way of talking is Trump's…come to think of it, just change his hair…

  • Tv Shows are the worst thing that ever happened to science. That’s what Jurors expect and even though they know the TV STARS won’t come in, they will swallow anything with the worlds Of EXPERT WITNESSES??????? Jurors aren’t necessarily your Peers. ALOT!

  • 0:49 I'm sorry but you missed an opportunity here. You should have used the real TV show "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp".

  • The only definition of trill I know of is the race that Jadzia Dax and Ezri Dax were a part of, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

  • Kinda sad that the one time the Falcons are used as a positive graphic, it’s from the super bowl moments before disaster 😭

  • I remember watching some true crime doc of Netflix recently and the victim had clear bite marks on them. I don't watch a lot of true crime stuff. I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person who's well read, but I was surprised to find I was snowed by this bullshit as well. I remember thinking, isn't bite mark analysis a thing? Can they not do a comparison with the suspect's teeth imprints? The doc explained basically the same as this, that that's more or less bullshit and completely inadmissible. Scary stuff though.

  • We are going backwards on this HUGE issue. Here's why. The most recent bona fide Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology was chartered by President George W Bush in September 2001. It was rechartered by President Obama and enlarged in size and scope.

    The Sept 2016 PCAST report, 'Forensic Science in Criminal Courts', came at the worst possible time, on the cusp of a change in administration.

    As outlined here, the PCAST report found serious issues in the analysis of forensic evidence and its application in criminal courts. Other evidence collection and analysis procedures, like ballistics, were also investigated.

    It's August 2019 as I write. The incumbent president has been in office for 940 days. Not only has the PCAST report been ignored, the incumbent has not made a single appointment to the council.

  • More importantly, the mayfield case demonstrates how pressures from politicians and officers can influence the final result of analysis can be influenced by extraneous factors.
    Look up Dror et al 2004 and 2008 for the technical study

  • “To a reasonable degree of scientific certainty” to me would imply a p value less than 0.05, ie that there is a less than 5% chance that the data correlation is merely due to random chance rather than an actual relation. This is fairly well accepted as a standard for rejecting the null hypothesis (ie establishing that an effect actually exists) to get published in a scientific journal. However, a 5% chance leaves HUGE room for reasonable doubt. 5% of the US population, for example, is 16.2 MILLION people. Even 5% of New York City, USA’s population is well over 400 000 people. That’s a lot of possible suspects.

  • Interestingly enough Ted Bundy was convicted by using bite mark analysis. And if you watch the trial, the "dental expert" is even asked "Are you sure within a reasonable degree of dental certainty?" by the prosecutor. I kid you not, lol.

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