Horrible news from the Washington Post:
Federal review stalled after finding forensic errors by FBI lab unit spanned two decades
Basically, 10 people at the FBI testified about hair and fiber analysis prior to DNA test availability and thus errors were made as hair analysis has an unknown error rate.
The inquiry includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s in which the FBI’s hair and fiber unit reported a match to a crime-scene sample before DNA testing of hair became common. The FBI had reviewed about 160 cases before it stopped, officials said.
The investigation resumed after the Justice Department’s inspector general excoriated the department and the FBI for unacceptable delays and inadequate investigation in a separate inquiry from the mid-1990s. The inspector general found in that probe that three defendants were executed and a fourth died on death row in the five years it took officials to reexamine 60 death-row convictions that were potentially tainted by agent misconduct, mostly involving the same FBI hair and fiber analysis unit now under scrutiny.
Here are more excerpts from the article:
“I see this as a tip-of-the-iceberg problem,” said Erin Murphy, a New York University law professor and expert on modern scientific evidence.
“It’s not as though this is one bad apple or even that this is one bad-apple discipline,” she said. “There is a long list of disciplines that have exhibited problems, where if you opened up cases you’d see the same kinds of overstated claims and unfounded statements.”
Worries about the limitations and presentation of scientific evidence are “coming out of the dark shadows of the legal system,” said David H. Kaye, a law professor at Penn State who helped lead a Justice Department-funded study of fingerprint analysis and testimony in 2012. “The question is: What can you do about it?”
Responding to the FBI review, the accreditation arm of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors last year recommended that labs determine whether they needed to conduct similar reviews, and New York, North Carolina and Texas are doing so.
According to a Justice Department spokesman, officials last August completed reviews and notified a first wave of defendants in 23 cases, including 14 death-penalty cases, that FBI examiners “exceeded the limits of science” when they linked hair to crime-scene evidence.
However, concerned that errors were found in the “vast majority” of cases, the FBI restarted the review, grinding the process to a halt, said a government official who was briefed on the process. The Justice Department objected in January, but a standoff went unresolved until this month.
After more than two years, the review will have addressed about 10 percent of the 2,600 questioned convictions and perhaps two-thirds of questioned death-row cases.
The department is notifying defendants about errors in two more death-penalty cases and in 134 non-capital cases over the next month, and will complete evaluations of 98 other cases by early October, including 14 more death-penalty cases.
In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. The FBI now uses visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or as a screening step before more accurate DNA testing.
Bolding is mine. So many people imprisoned on faulty/false evidence is just mind-boggeling. Not to mention that people were executed on such false evidence as well; at least 4 people were executed or died on death row, were innocent.
This one essential flaw of the death penalty; it is a permant and irretrievable action. Once done, it cannot be undone.
EXECUTE JUSTICE, NOT PEOPLE!
Read the entire article here.