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California Senate aims to limit 'junk science' in courtrooms

 January 28, 2022 at 2:54 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:00)

The California innocence project wants junk science out of the courtroom. So we

Speaker 2: (00:05)

Are, we're really looking to crack this bill to remedy wrongful convictions from the past

Speaker 1: (00:10)

I'm Maureen Kavanaugh. This is K PBS midday edition. After the deaths of their colleagues, Tijuana journalists wonder where they can turn for help. The entire

Speaker 3: (00:31)

Baha California state mechanism is a hollow shell. It is not autonomous. It doesn't have a budget of its own.

Speaker 1: (00:37)

Lots of music is on the menu on our weekend preview that's ahead on midday edition

Speaker 1: (01:00)

Lawyers call it CSI effect. The explosion of forensic science and criminal investigation, and in popular culture makes us think crime can be solved in the lab, but is this evidence as reliable as we've been told, or is some of it even junk science, a bill promoted by the California innocence coalition now approved by the state would make testimony based on disputed CSI techniques, inadmissible in court. And that would allow people who've been convicted using such evidence to have a basis for appeal. Joining me is Jasmine Harris, associate director of development and policy with the California innocence project and Jasmine, welcome for the program.

Speaker 2: (01:41)

And thanks for having the,

Speaker 1: (01:43)

The popularity of watching. Criminalists do analysis on crime scenes is all over our culture from movies to video games. How much of that has seeped into our courtrooms?

Speaker 2: (01:53)

I, I think it's completely flooded and inundated our courtrooms. Uh, I think that when you look at the makeup of a jury, these are folks that are watching plenty of TV and are certainly entry in what's going on in criminal courts because of these TV shows. And so these are the evaluators of facts that are coming into trials, right? These are the people who are watching these TV shows and then coming in and being jurors in these cases, assuming that if an expert testifies at trial, if certain scientific oceans are presented at trial, that those are valid and backed by data and, and valid methodology. And that, that tends to just not be the case here in California and actually Countrywide.

Speaker 1: (02:35)

What types of forensic science have been found to be unreliable.

Speaker 2: (02:39)

There there's quite a laundry list so far. And just a few off the top of my head would be bite mark analysis. Uh, and this is the idea that you would look at a picture or the dation of someone's teeth, and you would match that to a supposed bite mark on someone's body. And this has led to hundreds of wrongful convictions in our country. We actually have a case out of our office of Mr. Bill Richards, who actually inspired the original, false scientific evidence bill that we are amending this year with Senate bill 4 67

Speaker 1: (03:13)

And other techniques like fiber analysis, even fingerprints have into question. Isn't that right?

Speaker 2: (03:20)

That's absolutely right. And I think fingerprints is the most interesting because I think that right behind DNA is the one that all of us as laypeople think is the best hard and fast indicator as to who might have done this crime, right? We were taught for a long period of time that everybody's fingerprints are unique and there's no way that you could have the same fingerprints as someone else. And we know that's not true anymore. Hair microscopy. One of the ones that you mentioned as well has come under great scrutiny, and many of these sciences have come under scrutiny because of these groundbreaking reports that have come out from the national academy of science in 2009. And the president's count of advisors on science and technology in 2016, which is referred to as the PCAST report. These reports really blew open the issues with the forensic sciences that are being used in our courtrooms. And I think one of the things that we're really trying to get at with Senate bill 4 67 is a way for that to be incorporated into our courtrooms.

Speaker 1: (04:24)

If this bill is approved by the assembly and signed by the governor, how would it change how forensic evidence is loud in court?

Speaker 2: (04:32)

So this bill is a post-conviction bill. So we are, we're really looking to practice bill to remedy wrongful convictions from the past. And, and this is important because of the 260 exonerations that we've had here in California since 1989, 15% of those included false science and 66% of those were given life sentences. People are put away for life under these flaw sciences. And so with, with Senate bill 4 67, what that will do is provide a way for people whose convictions occurred when a science was viewed and was used in a certain way that now we know shouldn't be used that way, that allows for this person to have that evaluation in the courts again. And one of the opposition pieces that we've heard is well, just because somebody thinks that the science was flawed in their case, that doesn't mean they should get out. Well, that's not how our system works either.

Speaker 2: (05:32)

If the science was flawed in their case, if this bill gets through and the science was flawed in their case, what that means is their conviction could be reversed and they're just re prosecuted all over again. And that makes the most sense because it's the current science and also taking into account the scrutiny of that science to then prosecute somebody. So this isn't a, a floodgate thing where we wanna get everybody out of prison who maybe had some flawed science in their case. This is a very specific group of people that deserve to have this reanalysis of the science that was used against them.

Speaker 1: (06:07)

The bill passed in the state Senate by an overwhelming majority, what are its prospects now that it moves to the assembly?

Speaker 2: (06:15)

We hope that our, our friends in the assembly feel the same way as the senators. Do. We really pride ourselves on, on engaging with other stakeholders, as far as building this language and making sure that it works for all parties. We spoke to the California district attorney's association. We talked to judicial council. They have all given us input on this bill. And so we, we're just really proud and, and hopeful that it'll move through the assembly like it did in the Senate.

Speaker 1: (06:40)

I've been speaking with Jasmine Harris, associate director of development and policy at the California innocence project. Jasmine, thank you so much. Thank you for having

Speaker 2: (06:49)


Speaker 1: (06:55)

Both of the journalists killed Tijuana this month had sought help from a Baja California program aimed at protecting those who report the news that help never came KPBS. Border reporter. Gustavo tells us about the toll their deaths are taking on the regions cross border journalists

Speaker 4: (07:15)

Loud. Al was the second Tijuana journalists killed the month. And the third in all of Mexico, Marto Martinez, a prolific crime photographer was shot and killed outside his home on Martin Luther king Jr day a week before that beta Cruz journalist Ko Gabo was brutally stabbed to death. Mexico has long been among the most dangerous places in the world for those who report the news. But the slangs this month have brought fear and now outrage among journalists to another level this week they took to the streets.

Speaker 5: (07:50)


Speaker 4: (07:52)

Journalists are demanding more protection for the living and justice for the dead. Sonya DNDA has a local journalist collective called YOA or yes, I am a journalist two years ago. She helped ma Nado enroll in a Baha California protection program for journalists. Denda now says that program failed ma Nado and Martinez. Most heartbreaking to DNDA is that Maona Nado knew she was most vulnerable outside her home. She had told Dan almost exactly how her death would happen. De says Marto Martinez asked for state protection last December, but the new governor who took office in November had not yet set up the enrollment process. John Albert Husen is the Mexico representative for the committee to protect journalists. He said Baja California's program is woefully inadequate. The entire

Speaker 3: (09:09)

Baja, California state mechanism is a hollow shell. It is not autonomous. It doesn't have a much it of its own. It has maybe three or four people working for it. Fair. Uh, uh, it has, uh, its knowledge of risk evaluation and applying protection is rudimentary at best.

Speaker 4: (09:25)

And it isn't just Baja, California crimes against reporters are rarely punished in Mexico. The,

Speaker 3: (09:31)

The principle factor that, uh, fuels these attacks is the impunity in Mexico. Uh, in pre it means then more than 95% of all crimes against press in Mexico are never actually prosecuted.

Speaker 4: (09:47)

Tanya Navarro is a reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. She says the last time she saw mal Nalo was at Martinez's Memorial, less than a week at go. My was a veteran broadcast journalist who had covered Tijuana for decades. Novaro says she was an inspiration to young women in the news industry. And

Speaker 6: (10:04)

That's how I remember her as a hard worker and, uh, an example for many of us that started, uh, journalism when she was already a big reporter

Speaker 4: (10:13)

Here in this town, longtime journalist, we sent it on, says the two recent murders bring back memories of similar crimes against reporters in Tijuana, more than 30 years ago. He worries now that the younger generation of journalists will be pressured to leave the industry altogether

Speaker 7: (10:27)

Twice. I've been talking to some of my colleagues, especially younger ones. And they say that the relatives are the first ones to tell them why don't you get away from that? The profession? Why don't you choose another line of work? Why don't you come back to the other city where it wasn't that dangerous as Tijuana? So it has, it has a toll

Speaker 4: (10:46)

Journalist Yoland Morales says the entire press course is looking over his shoulder, but Sonya de says, journalists will not succumb to the fear. They won't hide, flee the country or stop working. Even knowing that their blood could be spilled. Gustavo K PBS news, the

Speaker 1: (11:14)

Consulate general of Mexico, San Diego office is hosting a vigil for Maldonado and Martinez tonight at six. This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh. This weekend in the arts. We have a lot of piano music, the intersection of poetry and art and some Pulitzer prize winning photo journalism. Joining me with all the details as KPBS arts editor and producer, Julia Dixon, Evans, and Julia. Welcome.

Speaker 8: (11:53)

Hi Maureen. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: (11:55)

You have two piano performances on your radar for this weekend. One from the symphony at the civic theater playing some of the greats and another from a smaller ensemble project blank, performing solo piano pieces by lesser known women. Composers lets start there with project blank.

Speaker 8: (12:14)

Yeah. Um, Brendan is one of the co-founders of project blank, which is a performance organization, an ensemble, and nun's also an accomplished piano player. So to kick off their 2022 season, they're doing a concert of solo piano works, performed BYN and this is also a donation based pay. What you can event with a $5 suggested minimum donation. They are doing women composers. So let's start with a living composer, but one that's 98 years old, she is an Ethiopian exile and none AMA ho se Maram G. And this is a piece she wrote called the madman's laughter. Andy will also perform some Amy Beach compositions. Um, she's an American composer and piano player who lived from 1867 through 1944. And noun will be performing a few of her works. And finally there's Missy Mao, who is a young contemporary American composer. She's really prolific and composes for a pretty wide range of instruments and on, but noun will play a few of her works for solo piano. This one it's called heartbreaker is one of my favorites. And this was from 2013.

Speaker 1: (13:56)

Brandon Wyn performs works by three women composers Saturday evening at St. James by the sea in LA Jolla. Now let's talk about the symphony concerts this weekend.

Speaker 8: (14:08)

Yeah. George Lee will join the symphony on piano for two concerts. There's one tonight and another Saturday afternoon. Both are at the civic theater. This will be conducted by Rafael pare and they're playing the much loved rap city on a theme of Paganini by RMAN and off. And this has one of the most recognizable passages in classical music. But beyond that section, it's a really lively empower a full piece that most of us probably have never listened to all the way through. And they're also playing symphony fantastic by Barios and a 1920s piece by black American composer, William Grant, still his darker America.

Speaker 1: (15:00)

The symphony performs tonight at eight and Saturday at 2:00 PM at the civic theater now onto the world of visual art and poetry. You've told before about artist Andres Hernandez and her new exhibition of photography crying on the blue line trolley. But tomorrow she's in conversation with local poet, Carla Cordero. Can you tell us how poetry is connected here? Right.

Speaker 8: (15:26)

I actually first learned about Hernandez through her poetry in a graphic novel called we used to move through this city like doves and the wind. And now she has this multidisciplinary work of mostly photography and that's up at the hill street country club right now. Her work is so intensely informed by this experience of feeling trapped by the border and being unable to move back and forth to see partner particularly during COVID when the border was completely closed to her. But even when it's open and Hernandez has to endure this really unsettling experience of crossing a border and Hernandez writes about this, the process of traveling across the border or about love in a really vulnerable and our sway. And I think there's a lot of overlap between the poetry and the photography in the exhibition of that architecture of the border or from the trolley ride from San Ciro and there's poetry and, and short video works that go along with it. But they're going to be discussing that intersection on Saturday afternoon in an artist talk, uh, that's in conversation with Carla Cordero, who is a professor and a poet she's author of the amazing poetry collection called how to pull apart the earth. And it's virtual

Speaker 1: (16:46)

Andres Hernandez will be in conversation with Carla Cordero Saturday at 1:00 PM, local journalist, Don Bartlet won of Pulitzer in 2003 for his work with the LA times documenting central American youth migrating north to the us. He has a retrospective of his work on view at the Oceanside museum of art right now. And what do you know about it?

Speaker 8: (17:10)

So this exhibit covers something like 40 years of his work starting in the late 1970s. He was a photojournalist for what was then called the San Diego union. Um, he was with the paper until the mid eighties and then continued with the LA times until 2015. His photography is really powerful and story centric. He's traveled around the world, working on assignments and his work covers such a broad range of what the world has gone through in the last four decades. Definitely some of his most powerful pieces are those Pulitzer winning pieces of the central American youth on their journey. And my favorite is the striking picture taken from behind a boy who is sitting on top of a moving train. It's such a fleeting moment, but one that's really incredible. It'll all be on view at OMA through May 1st and the museums open Thursday through Sunday afternoons

Speaker 1: (18:07)

That's Dawn Bartlet's exhibition of photography, elusive moments, enduring stories at the Oceanside museum of art. Be sure to check with events, organizers for last minute changes or cancellations, and you can find details on these and more arts events or sign up for Julia's weekly, K P S arts slash arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans as always. Julia. Thanks a lot.

Speaker 8: (18:38)

Thank you, Maureen. Have a good weekend.

A bill, promoted by San Diego’s California Innocence Project and now approved by the state senate, would make testimony based on disputed CSI techniques inadmissible in court. Plus, both of the journalists killed in Tijuana this month had sought help from a Baja California program aimed at protecting those who report the news — that help never came. On a lighter note, this weekend in the arts, features a lot of piano music, the intersection of poetry and art and Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalism.