Wrapping up the year with Justice Breyer, a police firing, and forensic hair analysis

gavel stock image MslnI’m wrapping up the year with links to a broadcast I enjoyed, a report of a police officer’s resignation in lieu of being fired, and a story that could make a great legal thriller.

I’ve long admired Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. This NPR podcast includes a frank and fun interview, in which the justice describes the court’s decision-making process, offers his comments on the new musical on Alexander Hamilton, and opines on the art of compromise.

The Seattle Stranger reports on the resignation of an officer who faced termination for violating “several department policies, including policies on honesty and professionalism, a requirement that police record their work using their in-car cameras, and the prohibition on using their positions for personal gain.” The officer had responded to a complaint from a woman who said patrol officers were sleeping in their cards instead of patroling, and repeatedly texted her, inviting her out. Interesting note: as in most jurisdictions, prosecutors are notified when an officer is found to be dishonest, because that finding can be used against the officer when testifying in court. But, it turns out, there’s no agency charged with looking through police records or past testimony for other evidence of dishonesty. How can you use that to make life harder for your fictional characters—officers, lawyers, victims, or witnesses?

The FBI recently audited the use of forensic hair analysis, concluding that much of it — by both state and federal analysts — was flawed. As reported in the Missoulian, several states are now conducting a review of cases in which hair analysis contributed to convictions. Flawed forensic evidence is a fascinating — and terrifying — problem, making it great fodder for crime writers. Read this article for a peek at how reviews are conducted, what factors go in to the decision to reopen a case, and some of the impact of flawed forensics on the accused. (This related article discusses two recent Montana cases involving hair analysis.)

2 thoughts on “Wrapping up the year with Justice Breyer, a police firing, and forensic hair analysis

  1. Interesting. I’m not sure how I can work it into my books, but maybe in a short story. My books are all set in a small town with a very small police force and my readers would be upset if any of them were dishonest in any way.

    • That’s a tricky balance, isn’t it? At the same time, it would be easy to create a relationship that crosses the line in a small-town setting.

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