DFIR For Good

There is a hymn that we sing at church. The first line of the song alone is a message unto itself. “Because I have been given much, I too must give.” This is a message that I try to live up to. I know I’m not able to help everyone, but I can always do something.

At the DFIR Summit last month I spoke about how we can get more involved in giving back. This was not, in any way, meant to be pandering to any movements that have seen the streets filled with protesters in recent months. I say this, not because I disagree with their cause (I don’t), but because I want you to know that this was on my mind for some time prior and that the manifestation of my desire into action took some time, but is worth it.

In January I had the pleasure of going to the movie theater to watch, “Just Mercy.” A story of a lawyer, fighting for the rights of convicted felons in Arkansas. One such case detailed a man that was arrested, quickly tried, and sentenced to death, all on very weak evidence. Eventually justice prevailed as the man’s conviction was overturned and he was set free, but the story stuck with me. I had very long discussions with my extremely patient wife, in which we discussed the lawyer. He gave up on living a lavish lifestyle as a Harvard graduate. He could have chosen where to work and largely dictated his own salary, but he didn’t. He decided to open an organization to help people, funded by government grants and donations. What an inspiration!

I spent days thinking about this, scoured the web for resources and eventually decided on a course of action, I can’t allow myself to sit and let bad things happen, especially in my own field of expertise.

Did you know the Innocence Project estimates there are approximately 20,000 imprisoned people that are actually innocent of their accused crime? How does that make you feel?

Our own field in not without its own stories of injustice. Julie Amero is a great example to us all. Her life was destroyed by a forensics professional testifying to something that was completely untrue. So much pain and suffering could have been avoided if a knowledgeable investigator had been there to testify on her behalf.

Another story was shared soon after watching the movie. A man was accused of accosting and harming his ex-girlfriend over a shared apartment. He was arrested and required to disprove her accusation. He couldn’t afford a forensics expert but, thankfully, the public defender was able to make use of a well-equipped Legal Aid office that analyzed the man’s phone and showed him being across the city at the time the incident occurred. He was exonerated. He was, however, very lucky. Would things have turned out in his favor if he’d lives anywhere with New York? Other public defenders and Legal Aid offices around the country don’t have the resources to do this type of analysis. He could easily have gone to prison over the accusation. If you want to read the article in full, please feel free. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/22/business/law-enforcement-public-defender-technology-gap.html

I’m sure you can also think of similar incidents where either a mistake from a forensic investigator or a lack of funding on the defending party’s side has ended in either a wrongful conviction or someone losing a job, family, or worse. Again, how does this make you feel?

If these examples make you feel frustrated, angry or even a little ashamed, I’m right there with you. These feelings are legitimate but the problem is that feelings and desires fade if not fed. It isn’t enough to feel, we must act.

There’s too much injustice in the world and us, in our own sphere of responsibility, have the power to help. For years we’ve enjoyed the fruits of our labors. We work in an amazing field with fantastic people. We get to work on incredible cases where we get paid well to do the things we love. We’ve been the grateful recipients of life’s benefits for most of our careers. Moreover, we work in a field where, when the world is in turmoil and many are losing their employment, we typically see an uptick in work. What a position to be in.

I, myself have benefited from working in this field. I live in a nice area where I can raise my family without any real risk, I am afforded many of life’s luxuries that are unreachable by many other people. That being the case, how can I now do nothing to help? Because I have been given much, I too must give. And, to be blunt, so must you. Yes, I’m calling you out. Not a popular thing to do, I’m aware. I’m currently reading a book and a quote stood out to me today, “If you only do the right thing when it’s easy, then it’s convenience, not virtue.” Convenience be damned.

If no-one else can or will step in to help those in need, that leaves you and I. A fair response to that statement is, “yes, but I have no idea how.” I understand, so let me offer some suggestions.

  1. Make a plan. Do it now, don’t even finish reading the article. Get a pen and some paper and start listing the things you can do to help other using the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired from working in this field. Write down how many hours you’re willing to pledge.
  2. Educate yourself. Use the same passion that drives you to learn more about the workings of a computer to learn about injustices in your own area. Go find a criminal defense attorney or a public defender. Ask them how you can help. Most of their clients can’t really afford a lawyer, much less a forensic expert.
  3. Work with your own company. Many companies will have policies whereby you can do charitable work. Ask about it, see if they have ideas themselves.
  4. Find an organization that fits you. I’m not suggesting that you attach yourself to a movement or organization that you don’t agree with. Look at organizations near you. Find one that shares your own values, morals, and goals. Working with such an organization will certainly encourage you to do more and will make it a lot easier.
  5. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to do this for you.

While I’m not a big fan of “what’s in it for me?” I can actually answer that too. The time you spend doing volunteer or pro bono work can be recorded and offset against your taxes. In addition, you’re getting experience. Imagine being told that you won’t be used as an expert because you’ve never testified before, or even trying to show a potential employer that you can do forensics. Well, these opportunities can give you valuable experiences. However, if your still asking that question, maybe this post wasn’t for you after all.

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