The United States Justice Department and FBI have admitted that a significant number of examiners in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony against criminal defendants in almost all the trials over more than a two decade period.
“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project” (Hsu, 2015, n.p.). The NACDL and The Innocence Project are helping with the largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence in our country’s government’s history.
Thirty two cases resulted in death sentences; fourteen of them have been executed or died in prison. The group’s agreement with the government contended that results could have been released after the review of the first two hundred convictions.
FBI errors alone do not mean there was no other evidence to convict the guilty. Defendants (four of whom were previously exonerated), federal and state prosecutors (only in forty six states) and the District are being notified whether or not appeals are being granted.
“The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals” (Hsu, 2015, n.p.). It brought the failure of our nation’s courts to the forefront. Legal analysts pondered how state authorities and the courts will respond to such findings. “Long-suspected problems” such as, hair and bite mark comparisons, have contributed to many wrongful convictions. In order to gather the evidence, “subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques” (Hsu, 2015, n.p.) were used.
“In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they ‘are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science’” (Hsu, 2015, n.p.).
Both, Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project and Senator Richard Blumenthal, a former prosecutor, commended the FBI and the department for their collaboration. Mistakes have been made and it is the public’s right to be informed.
“Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice” (Hsu, 2015, n.p.), says Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director. Unknown federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems. However, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative (Hsu, 2015).
For more information on this topic please read “FBI Admits Flaws.”
Hsu, S. S. (2015, April 18). FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades. Retrieved June 07, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fbi-overstated-forensic-hair-matches-in-nearly-all-criminal-trials-for-decades/2015/04/18/39c8d8c6-e515-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html?utm_term=.2875c45e1bfe