Forensics, the burden of proof

September 3, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, September 3 – The police, Judiciary and the Attorney General’s office have had a number of exchanges in the recent past over the quality of investigations and evidence adduced in court, particularly concerning criminal cases. 

Judges and magistrates have thrown out several suits citing lack of sufficient evidence, and accusing the police of conducting shoddy investigations. 

The Attorney General’s office, on its part, in addition to faulting investigators has also criticised police prosecutors saying they lack the necessary legal expertise to argue cases in court. 

However, the police are not taking the flak lying down: senior officers say lack of forensic expertise and equipment is largely to blame for the mess that is causing a major blow to the country’s criminal justice system. 

“We are frustrated because our department does not have up-to-date equipment that can help us conduct proper investigations,” a detective who sought to remain anonymous said of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). 

This is not to say the CID does not have a forensics department: they do, but it is lean-staffed and ill equipped. 

They require a modern forensics laboratory with equipment that can help them carry out proper analysis of crucial evidence gathered from scenes of crimes. 

“Scientific testimony is often the deciding factor in the judicial resolution of civil and criminal cases yet we can not rely on such support in our investigations. We don’t have the necessary equipment,” another officer said. 

The lack of a scientific lab means investigators can only rely on eyewitness testimonies. 

At scenes of murder and rape, for instance, detectives are only seen collecting primary material evidence like murder weapons, finger print samples and questioning witnesses. 

They do not seem to pay much attention to scientific evidence like blood samples, semen, hair and fibers. 

“The results of scientific analysis of evidence left at the scene of a crime can seem more compelling to a jury than the testimony of eyewitnesses which we usually rely on. I think that explains why we have been losing so many cases,” another senior detective at the CID confessed. 

The CID was in the process of acquiring a Forensic Lab seven years ago but the dream was derailed by the emergence of the Anglo-Leasing scandal. 

The Sh4 billion contract was among those that were later linked to the shadowy company and steeped in controversy. The project has since been shelved. 

Lack of this vital investigative facility has left forensic scientists with the option of putting up private establishments to boost investigations. 

Lynne Farah and Sophie Mukwana are two such experts. A year ago, they jointly founded Biotech Forensics to conduct private scientific investigations in the country. 

Both have extensive training in forensic science. Lynne gained a Diploma in Higher Education in Biochemistry from South Bank University, London in 1999. In 2005, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science and Criminology from London South Bank University.  

Her partner, Sophie, is a graduate of California State University, Fresno and University of California, Davis. 

She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and a master’s degree in Forensic Science.  

“We both came back to Kenya with the hope of working in the lab that was being put up by the police. When I came back, the laboratory had not been put up and the Anglo-Leasing saga had just erupted. So the plan did not materialize,” Farah said in an interview with Capital News from their office in Westlands. 

Biotech Forensics, they say, has been dealing with rape cases, mainly in Naivasha, which has the highest number of recorded cases of sexual violence. 

“We have established a network with the police, hospitals and the children rescue centres which contact us whenever there are such cases,” Farah said. 

She explains that they mainly handle rape cases because they are not gazzetted to handle crime scene investigations. 

“We are not recognised by the police to do crime scene investigations. We mainly help defense lawyers because by the same token, there are many people out there who are charged with offences they have not committed,” she said. 

The firm also offers consultancy in paternity disputes. 

According to Farah, the biggest challenge facing the country’s investigative arm is the lack of a Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) database. 

Other developed countries have developed a database of DNA samples which helps investigators search and determine the involvement of suspects in various cases. 

The United States of America (USA), for instance, uses the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). 

This system is funded by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that searches profiles developed by federal, state and local crime laboratories. 

A match made between profiles in the forensic index can link crime scenes to each other, possibly identifying serial offenders.

Based on these “forensic hits,” police in multiple jurisdictions or States can coordinate their respective investigations and share leads they have developed independent of each other.

Matches made between the forensic and convicted offender indexes can provide investigators with the identity of a suspect(s).

“Lack of such forensics analysis in Kenya has greatly hampered the conviction process. It complicates the investigation process,” Farah said.

Farah and her partner now plan to set up a DNA laboratory to compliment their forensic work in the country.

“This is a basic necessity for any forensic work and that is why we want to put up one. It will enable us handle forensic cases expeditiously,” she said during an interview on Thursday.

She says it will cost them more than Sh30 million to put up the laboratory, with basic equipment.

“This is just a start up, there is more required to put a forensic laboratory,” she said.

However, Farah is quick to dispel the misconception that forensic services are too expensive.

She says the cost ranges between Sh5, 000 and Sh40, 000 depending on the job involved.

For instance, while the Government Chemist charges Sh 15,000 for a DNA analysis, private forensic scientists will charge Sh20, 000.

Lately, Biotech Forensics has been working in conjunction with the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and the Ministry of Gender and children services to open up a rescue centre for girls who have been defiled.

She says the centre will mainly target girls who have been defiled and fear going back to their homes.

“Most of those girls have babies, and cannot be admitted to children’s homes. That is why we want to establish a home to enable them continue with their education,” he said.

Farah also disclosed that forensic scientists in the country are also working towards establishing a forensic association to professionalize the body.

“We want forensic scientists to be recognized. We want a body that will be responsible in accrediting forensic scientists,” she added.


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