Everyone has more or less learned about “forensic science” through TV dramas or other films and dramas. Forensic evidence is often seen as the missing piece to a puzzle to solve cases in films and dramas, but is forensic evidence really so magical and important? In fact, the field of forensic science once considered very reliable may be using unreliable or unverified technology, and the identification of evidence can be very different among different practitioners.
Today, we are going to briefly discuss the “Chamberlain case”, which is one of the most famous criminal cases in Australia. With its twists and turns so absurd the event was remade into a film (Evil Angels starring Meryl Streep). The phrase “the dingo ate my baby” in the film also became a popular saying at the time. Forensic science played a huge part in this case and altered the fates of the Chamberlains, from life imprisonment to acquittal all in the hands of forensic evidence.
In August 1980, Chamberlain’s family set out from northern Queensland to camp at the famous Uluru rock (red stone) in Northern Territory. On the night of August 17, the mother Lindy Chamberlain found that her 9-week-old daughter had disappeared from the tent. Lindy and her husband, Michael Chamberlain called the police immediately. Lindy told the police that a wild dog took the child away. The police launched a search with surrounding tourists and local residents. But as time went by, everyone knew that would have no chance of survival.
A week later, not far from the camp, the police found blood-stained baby jumpers, torn diapers, and socks. It is worth mentioning that there is a lot of blood on the neckline of the jumpsuit and a lot of damage on the left sleeve. But neither body of the child nor the child’s white knitted coat were found.
However, for the Chamberlains their nightmare has just begun.
Although the initial investigation found that the wild dog took the child, in the eyes of the public, it was a very absurd thing for a baby to be taken away by a wild dog. Both the Australian media and the public were full of doubts and accusations against Lindy and her husband. Most people believed that the child’s death was not an accident, but a murder.
Dr Ken Brown was dissatisfied with the initial findings and took the evidence to the forensic evidence expert Professor James Cameron. In the court trial, Dr Brown’s forensic team pointed out that they had done a series of experiments to prove that the bite marks caused by wild dogs eating meat were different from those on baby jumpers, and the marks on jumpers were more likely caused by sharp weapons, and no saliva residue of wild dogs was found on the jumpsuit.
Secondly, the most important evidence in this trial came from the yellow car that the Chamberlain drove when they were traveling. The test results showed that there were many bloodstains in the car, and jet bloodstains were found on the mat of the front seat, footpads, seats, camera bag, and the driver’s foot brake. Based on those forensic evidence, the prosecutors believed Lindy had killed her daughter in the car and disposed of the body with her husband. On September 29, 1982, the jury found Linda guilty and sentenced her to life imprisonment. After her imprisonment, Linda tried to appeal not all attempts were rejected.
A Surprising twist
At the end of January 1986, there was an amazing twist in this case. While searching for another incident, Uluru police found the white baby knitted coat in a wild dog kennel. The saliva of wild dogs and several canine hairs were found on the knitted coat.
In May 1986, with the emergence of new evidence, the Royal Commission led by Judge Trevor Morling began to investigate and collect evidence. On 22 May 1987, Judge Trevor Morling published the findings, the final result showed that there were serious defects in the forensic evidence used. After testing, no Linda’s daughter’s blood was found in the car! Some so-called “blood stains” were just residues of milkshakes or drinks. Finally, on 15 September 1988, the Northern Territory authority revoked the judgments, released and compensated Linda 1.3 million in 1992.
Is forensic evidence really as reliable as we expect? In many TV dramas, forensic evidence has played a decisive role, but the reality is very different.
John J. Lentini once wrote in his book that the field of fire investigation is not so reliable. John has participated in more than 2000 fire investigations. Once, he asked a young investigator, “what does that burn mark tell you?” The correct answer should be “nothing”. But on most occasions, the investigators would think that they found some traces which indicated that the fire burned “faster” or “slower”. In fact, if a bench or a bed burns to a certain temperature, no one can tell the cause of the fire. Many so-called ‘scientific’ analysis are very subjective.
Itiel Dror of the JDI forensic center at University College London and his colleagues wrote in Science and Justice in 2011: “we asked 17 DNA experts in North America to analyse the data of a convicted criminal case, and they came to different conclusions.”
An American survey shows that 52% of 225 misjudged cases have unreliable forensic evidence. Many innocent people were unjustly imprisoned for unreliable forensic evidence. Judge Chris Maxwell, President of the Victorian Court of Appeal, once pointed out in an interview:
“With the exception of DNA, no other area of forensic science has been shown to be able reliably to connect a particular sample with a particular crime scene or perpetrator”
Our firm has handled many criminal cases, and we have found that many people place an inexplicable amount of trust and importance on forensic evidence. But in fact, forensic evidence is not as amazing as we see in TV shows, and with the development of technology, many flaws in forensic evidence are gradually surfacing. When facing charges from the police, please consult a lawyer in a timely manner, as the evidence provided by the police is not always that reliable.