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Jacqueline Blake Forensic Fraud

Introduction

Jacqueline Blake studied at Benedict College, Columbia in South Carolina where she earned a Bachelor’s of science degree in Biology. After she completed her studies at the college, she got employment with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the DNAUI unit on 8 August 1988. She joined the FBI as a “Biological Laboratory technician at the Gs-5 grade level” (Special Report, 2004, para. 1). She joined the serology unit that specialized in the Laboratory’s Scientific Analysis Section. Her duties in the section included “storing and inventorying evidence as well as conducting routine evidence examinations to identify the presence of body fluids” (Special Report, 2004, para. 1). During performance appraisals, it was noted that her comprehension in training was below the expected level although she received successful evaluations in the appraisals. This saw her reach the GS-10 grade in the year 1991. This paper will endeavor to look at Jacqueline Blake’s forensic fraud and its impact. The research in the paper was done using secondary sources on the internet.

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Early signs of misconduct

During the same year, the earliest signs of problems with Blake were noted. Her DNAUI Unit chief reprimanded her orally for misusing her annual and sick leave accounts. By July of the same year, her leave account was in deficit and she was advised against taking additional leave for the rest of the year that she failed to heed. That notwithstanding she went ahead to submit a leave slip and did not turn up for work the following day in the month of November. On this day, her superior was absent and she took advantage of his absence fully aware that she did not have any accrued leave days. The following month she took a day off without asking for permission. This behavior made the chief of the Unit conduct an audit of her leave record. A pattern was identified in 37 sick days that she had taken. They all took place on a Monday, Friday or the day after a holiday. This misconduct did not stop her from getting exceptional ratings during performance appraisals that occurred between 1992 and 1993(Special Report, 2004, para. 2-3; Halperin, 2005, para. 8).

During a performance appraisal of June 1994, her job rating was unsatisfactory. The appraisal stated that her “examinations are not performed according to acceptable laboratory practices,” in addition she came up with false-positive serology testing results through proficiency testing and “inaccurate documentation of examinations conducted for blood and semen “(Special Report, 2004, para. 1). Following this discovery, her conduct was monitored closely during the next two months, however, she went on to pass a proficiency test and her job ratings improved greatly. She was rated fully successfully and by the end of the year her job rating rose to superior. She held on to this level until 1996 when she received a promotion to GS-11 grade level.

Nonetheless, before she got the grade promotion her Unit Chief noted that Blake had confidence problems when she requested a transfer from serology to DNA analysis. This prompted the chief to assign an examiner who worked with her individually during the course of her transition. Eventually Blake trained in the DNA testing methodology that was preferred by the DNAUI Unit. The methodology was known as restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). A performance appraisal for RFLP showed that had a caring attitude toward her work and followed applicable protocol strictly and for this she was rated as exceptional. This led to yet another promotion in 1998 and she elevated to GS-12 grade level. Her responsibilities included analyzing evidence that had been examined by a serologist. She also prepared notes for DNAUI examiners that detailed the tests that she has conducted as well as their results. She showed proficiency in the use of RFLP and thus she was charged with the responsibility of instructing Laboratory employees in the use of the methodology. Her job ratings continued to skyrocket and in the appraisals summaries of 1998 and 1999 she was rated as exceptional (Special Report, 2004, para. 5)

In 1999, DNAUI was in the process of phasing out the use of RFLP to embrace (Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology and thus Blake started training as a PCR Biologist. An examiner who had trained Blake in serology advised the chief of DNAUI against training Blake in PRC because she did not have the required skills. This advice was ignored because it would take at least two years to incorporate a PCR Biologist who worked outside the FBI. Therefore, to minimize a staff shortage the laboratory went ahead and allowed Blake to train in PCR. Blake took six months to cover the PCR training course, which was two months longer than the usual training time. This longer duration seemed to support the earlier finding during her first appraisal in 1991(Special Report, 2004, para. 9).

Blake’s forensic misconduct

Blake completed her PCR training, which required ten mock cases in training with samples of semen, blood and saliva. The tenth mock case served as a qualifying test and proficiency examination. During the eighth test, she omitted the negative controls, this also happened in her tenth mock and went undetected by the laboratory and she passed her proficiency and qualifying tests and started to work officially as a PCR Biologist. She worked on many cases and in all the cases and omitted the negative controls in 90 out of 97 cases she had conducted (Lazer, 2004, p.389, Teichroeb, 2004, para. 23). Her performance appraisals were not as good as her RFLP duration and her work was rated as generally high in the years 2000 and 2001. Her forensic misconduct was unearthed on 8 April 2002.

The whistleblower of the forensic fraud

For a forensic test to be complete and valid certain protocols must be followed. In Blake’s case, she failed to follow all the laid down procedures and thus her tests were scientifically invalid due to the omission of the negative controls. She was supposed to do the negative controls after the application process. In the application process, she followed the laid down procedure and added all the required reagents into the control tubes. However, she failed to perform the negative control after the application process that requires a PCR biologist to add an appropriate amount of reagents into two samples- amplified DNA from evidentiary samples and an amplified negative control to prepare the samples for the next step of capillary electrophoresis. The negative controls are used to detect any contamination that might have occurred during the analyzing process. Therefore, her negative controls were not sufficient to detect any contamination as they were nonexistent having been omitted. The results of the test therefore could not be valid, as one could not tell whether the results are because of contamination during the testing process. The whistleblower detected anomalies in Blake’s capillary electrophoresis accidentally when she glanced at her machine. The whistleblower who was a biologist discovered the inconsistency between the information displayed on the machine and the information of an STR negative control as the results lacked a primer peak, which is present if the right protocol is followed in the testing procedure. When the biologist confronted Blake about her results on the capillary electrophoresis machine, she gave casual response and the biologist was taken aback. This raised a red flag and the Biologist shared this information about Blake’s testing process with a colleague. She decided to examine DNA profiles and discovered that the negative controls had been omitted. She called her Richard Guerrieri her supervisor who was the Unit chief at DNAUI. Richard took the matter seriously and talked to Blake’s supervisor Alan Gusti who conducted further examinations on Blake’s DNA profiles and deficiencies were found in her procedure due to the omission of the negative controls. (Special Report, 2004, para. 7-12).

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Impact of fraud

Blake’s work in PCR for two years became useless. Her results could not be used in court as evidence due to the shocking revelation of her fraud. Thus, the FBI had no option but to repeat the DNA testing process in all her former cases. This delayed the cases in court that were relying on the DNA tests done by Blake. This cost the FBI vast resources. Twenty-nine of the DNA profiles done by Blake had to be removed from the DNA database and by the time, the special report was written twenty of the DNA profiles were yet to be restored. This is a very bad situation, as some crimes may remain unsolved because Blake handled the only available samples and new samples cannot be obtained (More wrongdoing, 2003, para. 12).

This case dented the FBI’s Laboratory’s credibility in conducting forensic tests even though the findings did not show any case in which the FBI laboratory presented erroneous results to courts. This is further compounded by the fact that the FBI laboratory took two years to discover the misconduct. To save its face the FBI laboratory conducted a thorough review of all its cases and found out that the discrepancies were exclusive to Blake’s work (The FBI DNA Report, 2004, para. 2). On the other hand, corrective measures the laboratory took to address Blake’s issue resulted in heavy costs to the lab. In addition, the resources of state, prosecutors and investigators were used, as they also had to take corrective measures in their cases (Jeralyn, 2003, Para. 2-5).

Charges against Blake

After the forensic fraud was discovered, Blake was sent on a compulsory unpaid leave starting 19 May 2002. Later she was served with a notification of investigation into her conduct. The FBI notified the office of the inspector general (OIG) about Blake’s misconduct. The OIG attorney together with an investigator interviewed Blake in her residence and she confessed that she was aware that she was not following protocol in her testing. She executed an affidavit of her confession to her misconduct, which was presented to the Department’s Public Integrity Section to make a prosecution decision. She was charged in United States District Court and pleaded guilty to “a misdemeanor charge of providing false statements in her laboratory reports” (Special Report, 2004, para. 12). This confession shows that DNA analysis may not be reliable even though for a long time it had been advertised as infallible (Thompson, 2006, Dishonest DNA Analysts, para 3).

Blake’s life after the forensic scandal

After the forensic fraud was unearthed, Blake resigned from her work at the FBI laboratories. This scandal was so big that she was put on probation for two years (Possley, Millis & McRoberts, 2004, para. 13). Due to forensic fraud, Blake faced criminal charges and she pleaded guilty to falsification of documents. She faced up to a maximum of one year in jail together with a fine of $100,000. (Department of Justice, 2004, para. 2; Lichtblau, 2004, para. 1).

Conclusion

DNA analysis is a method used to determine the genetic makeup of a living organism. This is done by analyzing the DNA of people and storing the records in a database. In case of a crime, the DNA found at the crime scene is analyzed and compared with the DNA stored at the database to enable investigators and prosecutors to bring to justice people who commit crimes. This method has also been useful in exonerating would be convicts on death row after the DNA analysis shows that the DNA found at the crime scene is different from the convict’s or suspects DNA (Gianelli, 2007, para. 2). Therefore, this is a very important methodology in the justice department as it helps to conclude cases beyond reasonable doubt as no two people have similar DNA. However, the methodology can also be used to convict innocent people if the lab technicians are compromised and give false information regarding DNA to either convict or free a certain suspect. In Blake’s case, the investigation found that she did not fail to follow the procedure because someone told her to do so. She confessed to having done that so that her work would run smoothly. She also falsified documents to cover up the step she was skipping in the DNA analysis. By doing, so she put the lives of people at risk because they would probably be convicted if found guilty and yet the DNA results may have been contaminated. From her conduct of abusing her leave days and lying to her superiors without blunting an eye, she comes off to me as a malicious person who is not committed to her work and will take shortcuts that are wrong putting the lives of other people in jeopardy. The fact that she knew what was doing was wrong and she did it anyway for two years makes me wonder what kind of a person would do that knowing too well the impact of errors in DNA analysis. Whatever reasons she had for committing forensic fraud makes Blake unreliable to do her duties in a lab. In her case instead of performing science to solve crimes, she was actually committing science crimes.

Reference

Department of Justice. (2004). Former FBI Biologist Pleads Guilty to Filing False DNA Laboratory Report. Web.

Gianelli, P., (2007). Wrongful Convictions and Forensic Science: The Need To Regulate Crime Labs. Web.

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Halperin, R., (2005). DNA Evidence Exonerates Death Row Inmate. Web.

Jeralyn. E., (2003). FBI Lab Investigation Widens. Web.

Lazer, D., (2004). DNA and the criminal justice system: the technology of justice. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Lichtblau, E., (2004). Scientist Falsified DNA Reports. Web.

More Wrongdoing Found at FBI Crime Lab. 2010. Web.

Possley, M., Millis, S., & McRoberts, F., (2004). Scandal Touches even Elite Labs. Web.

Teichroeb, R., (2004). Rare look inside State Crime Labs reveals recurring DNA Test Problems. Web. 

The FBI DNA Laboratory Report: A Review of Protocol and Practice Vulnerabilities. 2010. Web.

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Thompson, W., (2006). Tarnish on the ‘Gold Standard’: Recent Problems In Forensic DNA Testing. Web.

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