The smell test

Monday’s (day 11’s) testimony in the Casey Anthony trial featured a single witness who testified about the air samples taken from the trunk of Casey’s car (and by the way, the crime scene investigator who took the samples said there was no evidence of a dead animal anywhere on the vehicle that could account for any decomposition fumes found in/on it).  Monday’s witness is an expert in human decomposition who testified that the air samples smelled to him like decomposition, but more importantly, that chemical testing of the samples revealed the presence of compounds consistent with decomposition.  On top of that, the expert testified that the samples contained chloroform in quantities too large to be byproducts of decomposition — apparently even decomposition of a body that had been immersed in chlorinated pool water at the time of death and was then placed into the hot trunk of a car.  On cross examination, the defense challenged the techniques used to collect and analyze the air samples, suggesting that they’re novel and unreliable.  It’s an argument that the defense has made before in an attempt to have the air-sample testimony excluded from the trial altogether.

Here’s the oversimplified deal on the admissibility of scientific evidence:  In Florida, the legal standard that must be met in order for expert testimony to be admissible in court is essentially a “Frye” standard, named after the federal case from which it was originally derived.  In a “Frye” state, expert testimony has to be based on science that has gained “general acceptance” within the relevant scientific community.  The competing standard, also named after the federal case from which it was derived, is the “Daubert” standard, which requires expert testimony to be based on science that is either “generally accepted” or fundamentally “testable,” i.e. the methodology used to derive it has been subjected to, and has withstood, review and scrutiny within the relevant scientific community, thereby implying the soundness/reliability of its product.  (Yes, all you lawyers out there, I’m oversimplifying, just like I did a few days ago when I wrote about “hearsay,” but I’m trying to convey the crux of the issue without replicating the entire “Evidence 101” textbook.)  In general, relatively new scientific evidence (e.g. the air-sample analyses performed in the Anthony case — they’re cutting-edge science, and this is the first Florida case in which testimony based on such analyses has been admitted) is more likely to be admitted in states that apply the Daubert standard, but in the Anthony case, the judge concluded that the air-sample science is in fact accepted enough to satisfy Florida’s Frye standard.  Hence, the jurors, and all of us, get to hear it.

In other Lawpsyc news:

Speaking of the stench of death, remember that “house of horrors” in Ohio where 11 adult female corpses were discovered back in 2009?  The owner’s trial started Monday — he’s already a convicted sex offender, and there’s plenty of evidence of both systematic premeditation prior to the killings and consciousness of guilt thereafter, so I don’t think his insanity defense is going to fly.  (If you want to get caught up on this case, I wrote about it back on 11/1/09 with follow-ups on 11/5/09, 11/14/09, and 12/3/09 — all of my pre-2011 posts were imported to this platform and filed under December 2010 in the Archives menu to the right.)

There’s another sad case, this one in Florida, of a 12-year-old brutally murdering his toddler sibling, leaving prosecutors to wrestle with the dilemma of whether to charge him as a juvenile or as an adult.  If you’re interested in the factors that go into a decision to “certify” a juvenile offender to stand trial as an adult, I wrote about them back on 5/1/09 in the context of another case.  In this Florida case, prosecutors apparently don’t think that the juvenile justice system is adequate to prevent the defendant from posing a danger to others in the long term.  Even if he got the maximum juvenile sentence, he’d be out at age 21, and while he apparently has had a tragically-abusive upbringing, prosecutors apparently think he’s so volatile and violent that he can’t be rehabilitated, at least not in eight or nine years.  I know that may sound sadly pessimistic, and I don’t have all the details, but he apparently had tried to kill the same sibling at least once before, so I’ll give the prosecutors the benefit of the doubt.  If he’s tried and convicted as an adult, he may not actually spend that much more time locked up (or any time in an adult prison before the age of 18), but he’ll at least be able to get much longer-term monitoring upon release.

And finally tonight — surprise, surprise — Congressman Weiner now admits that he lied about sending a lewd photo of himself to a female college student via Twitter.  Contrary to the brazen lies that he told last week, it’s him in the photo, and he sent it (and not just that one, but others, to six women, some when he was single, and some since he got married…last year).  Now, in case you missed it, I recently explained (5/18/11), in the context of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s out-of-wedlock child scandal, why this sort of thing implies unfitness to serve in public office.  But even if you disagree with all of that, this guy’s just plain too stupid to be fit to serve in Congress!

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