The Department of Justice and FBI publicly admitted that nearly all experts working in a hair sample comparison unit provided flawed testimony in almost all criminal cases they were brought in to testify in a manner that helped prosecution against defendants.
According to official data, about 25 forensic experts of 28 who work at the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit failed to present the faults in forensic matches in 95 percent of the 268 trials in which they were involved.
Currently, the DOJ and FBI are assisted by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) with the most exhaustive post-conviction review of forensic evidence in the U.S. To this moment, the three entities analyzed nearly 300 trials which led to the conviction of the defendants over two decades before the 2000s.
Based on that flawed evidence, about 32 defendants were put on the death row, while in the meantime 14 of them were either executed or died in jail.
But the FBI reported that many of those convictions were note based solely on flawed evidence. However, defendants and prosecutors in 46 states were urged to find whether there were grounds for appeals.
Law experts said that such a scandal highlighted the failure of courts to provide juries with reliable scientific information. They also expressed their eagerness to learn how courts and state authorities would respond to the new findings involving flawed evidence such as bite-mark and hair comparison which had led to dozens of wrongful convictions since the 1970s.
The FBI and the department recently vowed that they would continue their review and would make sure that wrongfully convicted defendants were notified of errors and that justice would be done in all cases. The two federal entities also pledged that they would ensure hair comparison accuracy in future trials and would demand higher standards from forensic experts.
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of a non-for-profit group that provides post-conviction DNA evidence to demonstrate the innocence of some defendants, described the FBI’s three-decade use of hair sample comparison to convict criminal defendants as a “complete disaster.”
“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,”
Mr. Neufeld added.
A spokesperson from the NACDL said that the members of the organization hoped that the project would help authorities remediate injustices quicker, rather than waiting years to do it.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged both the DOJ and FBI to notify all defendants in the 2,500 cases that are currently being reviewed about the problems related to hair matches even if their cases were not completed.
Mr. Blumenthal deemed the new findings “appalling” and “chilling” because many people were convicted and even executed based on false and fabricated evidence provided by prosecutors who intended to faithfully enforce the law.
The current review conducted by federal authorities was launched in 2012 after a Washington Post’s piece which revealed that flawed forensic matches based on hair samples might have resulted in hundreds of wrongful convictions since the 1970s, usually in murder or rape cases.
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