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Archive for December, 2010

Paternity Fraud Hasn’t Gone Away

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 12:39 PM
Thursday, December 30, 2010

Laws about child support and child custody are different from state to state all of them require that there is solid proof that a relationship exists. If you want to get custody of a child you need to prove that you are related to that child. Unfortunately there are still situations where paternity is “assigned.”  Paternity is “assigned” when, a child is born to the wife during a marriage this is called “presumption of legitimacy”, and the husband is assigned complete rights, duties and obligations as to the child.  In the case of an unwed mother, a man may come forward and accept the paternity of the child, or the mother may petition the court for a determination, or paternity can be determined over time by showing that a man has been supporting a child in the ways of a father.

Non of those ways of determining paternity actually answers the question about who the father is. Many states have started to in act what are called paternity fraud laws which give a man the chance to dispute his role as the father. Traditionally relationships between parties were often determined by what was “reasonable” to assume. With DNA technology available for widespread use it has caused a change in the way paternity claims are dealt with.

More often than ever before a large group of shocked possible fathers are discovering that the children they’ve raised as their own are not biologically theirs. The mental impact of such a discovery can range from distressing to devastating, there is additional emotional distress when the man who has been known as the child’s father suddenly understands that he’s paid years of child support payments, sometimes many, many thousands of dollars, for another man’s child.

A great example is the case of Bert Riddick of California. As reported in a Los Angeles Times story Mr. Riddick was getting ready to leave on a business trip when his fiance discovered a court summons. In that summons Riddick was called forward as the father of his ex-girlfriend’s baby. Riddick had to attend to business elsewhere and didn’t go to the hearing. On his return he discovered that his wages were already being garnished. He had fallen victim to a common practice of declaring a man “guilty” by default.  Bert Riddick was declared the father because he had not proven otherwise.  This ruling destroyed Riddick’s new family financially. The Riddick family was forced to rely on the kindness of relatives who allowed them to stay in their home, the Riddick children in a tiny room together. Though Riddick’s life had been brought to ruin and his family became destitute. A simple home DNA test eventually proved that Bert Riddick was not the father of the child he’d had his wages garnished for all these years, but it wasn’t until years later that the State of California released him from the financial obligation to a child that wasn’t biologically his.

Another good example is the case of Doug Richardson of Michigan who, paid child support for fifteen years on a child that wasn’t his.  He paid roughly $80,000 in support. Mr Richardson claimed in the Detroit News that not only was he supporting a child who was not his, but he was financially supporting the child’s biological father a man involved with Richardson’s ex-wife. Mr. Richardson says he’s been tormented by this issue for the last fifteen years. Richardson was forced to file bankruptcy because he couldn’t pay his bills, back taxes and the penalties that go with them.

Fraudulent child support collections have destroyed the lives of many men.  A dozen other states offer legal protection to men who disprove paternity in such cases but still others do not. In 2005 almost twenty five percent of the states DNA paternity tests done for children born out-of-wedlock proved to be negative. In Georgia, if a man proves that he is not a child’s father his child support order will be ended. Maryland no longer has a limit on how long one can take to challenge a paternity case, something a lot of other states are looking at seriously. DNA paternity testing is now an established and important legal part of many paternity cases in the United States.

If you have any doubts or questions about the paternity of a child you might be supporting look into your states paternity law and get a DNA paternity test.  Knowledge is the best protection you have.

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Austin Texas Crime Lab Under Scrutiny

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 3:23 PM
Monday, December 13, 2010

The National Institute of Justice will auditing the Austin, TX Crime Lab. They are looking into the lab’s use of the nation’s Combined DNA Index System.  This is part of an already scheduled inspection that has taken on a new focus once complaints about the lab by a former employee, Cecily Hamilton, hit the news. Cecily Hamilton allegations may lead to another independent audit. Hamilton doesn’t imply that any mistakes were made at the lab, prosecutors are bracing for the worst.

Hamilton who worked at the APD’s lab for three years before leaving earlier in 2010, wrote a memo to supervisors in February which consisted of a laundry list of complaints about the lab.  It notably, makes no complaints about the scientific work done by its analysts but instead focuses on personal conflicts with various employees that she alleges made the lab a “hostile work environment.” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said that Hamilton’s allegations had been investigated and deemed unfounded.

The lab, which opened in 2005, has never failed any of its audits, which are conducted by both the FBI and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Never the less the Austin Police Department has requested that the Travis County District Attorney’s Office select a company or individual of their choosing to come in and conduct another audit.

John Neal, first assistant Travis County district attorney, stated that prosecutors have begun to notify all defense attorneys in pending criminal cases about the allegations.  He also stated that they are now considering the logistics of how to notify defendants who have already been convicted in cases that involve work done at the APD lab. The effect of Hamilton’s allegations on the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system remains to be seen.

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Skinner v. Switzer

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 1:38 PM
Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Wednesday October 13th the Supreme Court justices asked about an hour’s worth of questions regarding Henry Skinner’s request that a Texas district attorney turn over all existing DNA evidence in the triple murder he was convicted of in 1995.

In an interview Skinner said, “Turn over the evidence and test it, and let the chips fall where they may. If I’m innocent I go home. If I’m guilty, I die. What’s so hard about that?”

The justices, the two attorneys representing Skinner, and district attorney Lynn Switzer referred to around a half-dozen Supreme Court precedents in addition to the difference between a civil rights claim, using federal habeas law to attack a wrongful conviction, the respect owed state courts when the justices are interpreting state statutes and even the definition of the word “necessarily.”  The issue that they never came close to was the question of whether DNA evidence that might prove a person guilty or innocent should always be available to the convicted.

This is because in a 2009 decision involving an Alaska man who was convicted of kidnapping and rape, the court ruled 5 to 4 that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA evidence. The court did however acknowledged that such DNA testing had an “unparalleled ability” to separate the guilty from the innocent, the majority of the court said that the decision on when prisoners have the right to such DNA testing are best left to state legislatures and Congress.  While this appears to be a roadblock to prisoner’s requests for additional DNA testing the justices left a small loophole.  The Justices allowed that  for civil rights claims, if the prisoner could show that he was denied due process to obtaining evidence that could lead to his exoneration they should be allowed additional DNA testing.

That is the argument that Skinner and his attorneys are seeking to use. Skinner has always proclaimed his innocence, despite acknowledging that he was in the home during the brutal killings of his girlfriend and her two children on New Year’s Eve 1993. Skinner has always claimed that he was passed out on what tests later showed to be a near-lethal combination of codeine and alcohol and that he could not have overpowered and killed the three in his condition. He said he woke to find them dead; the blood on his clothes came from examining them.

When the trial occurred prosecutors tested some of the DNA evidence from the home.  They did not test material from a rape kit, or skin cells under Busby’s fingernails, or hairs and other evidence from the scene. This is the evidence that Skinner is claiming will prove his innocence.  At the time it seems a strategic decisions was made by both the prosecutors and the defense.  Prosecutors did not feel they needed the extra evidence.  While Skinner’s lawyer feared more testing would only make the case against his client stronger.

After the trial Skinner and his supporters, including Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project, have pointed out that Busby had expressed fear of her uncle,  Skinner contends that the now deceased uncle is the possible killer, and Skinner states that he always wanted the evidence tested.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing was based solely on technical arguments. Skinner’s attorney told the court that the only issue was whether Skinner could use the federal courts to press his civil rights claim to the evidence. He cited a previous court ruling that gave prisoners access to some evidence as long as the claim would not “necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence.”

“I would interpret his complaint is what he wants is the DNA. He thinks it’s going to be exculpatory. He doesn’t know that till he gets it,” stated Justice Stephen G. Breyer.  While Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said “In the real world, a prisoner who wants access to DNA evidence is interested in overturning his conviction,” and so his request for the DNA could not be separated from his attempt to get off death row.

Gregory Coleman, who represented district attorney Switzer, agreed with Justice Samel A. Alito Jr. stating that, “this is an attack on the criminal proceeding.”  Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan both pointed out that this places Skinner in a Catch-22, because he couldn’t challenge the wrongfulness of his conviction without knowing the results of the DNA test.

At this time there has been no ruling on the case.

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Genetic Passports… A Thing Of The Past?

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 1:20 PM
Thursday, December 2, 2010

In 2006 and 2007 there was a big push to create genetic passports for, plants, animals, microorganisms and even people this now seems to be a dream of the past.  What happened to genetic passports?  Why was there so much interest in them?  How were they going to be used?

Read more »

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