In recent years, many opponents of the death sentence have accused the FBI’s forensic hair analysis of being inaccurate, and that it might have led to the conviction of innocent people.
It wasn’t until very recently that the Department of Justice and the FBI allowed an investigation of several hundred convictions from the time between 1985 and 2000.
The Innocence Project, along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, also took part in the government review. In all of the 268 cases, suspects were convicted on the basis of hair analyses done with a microscope. Two hair samples were compared using only a microscope.
The re-investigation of these old cases was done with modern DNA comparison methods. A Washington Post article stated that federal officials acknowledged that FBI forensic examiners “overstated” testimonies based on hair matches for decades.
In a statement, the Justice Department and FBI admitted that 26 of 28 FBI examiners gave erroneous testimonies or reports. The examiners gave flawed testimonies in 96% of the 268 trials against defendants.
These mistakes belong to the past, because nowadays the FBI forensics do hair comparisons using DNA.
FBI executive assistant director of Science and Technology Amy Hess said: “Such statements are no longer being made by the FBI.”
Drawing a line
Some politicians think it may be time to tighten up policies to ensure such mistakes don’t happen again in future. They want Congress to pass forensic-science reforms to ensure examiners hold the highest standards.
According to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, member of the Senate judiciary and House Science Committees, commented on his website: “This kind of gross misconduct simply cannot be tolerated in our criminal justice system.”
The Justice Department and the FBI are now in the process of reviewing all historic cases in which evidence against a defendant was based on a “microscopic hair examination conducted by the FBI […] in a case that resulted in a conviction,” said a spokesman for the Justice Department, Nanda Chitre.
Nobody is perfect. Even a law enforcement agency isn’t immune to mistakes.
“Nobody disputes that mistakes are made or that mistakes are inevitable. But here we have an ethical and moral obligation to address these individual cases,” said M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project.
The process could be a role model opportunity to rectify past mistakes between the feds and the people, and potentially reveal a future path on how to deal with this together.
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