The Federal Bureau of Investigation, by its own admission, has left an indelible stain on the criminal justice system through the use for decades of what we now know was flawed “expert” testimony identifying defendants through forensic hair sample analysis.
After the exoneration of three men, in whose cases DNA proved there was no connection between them and the hair samples — including one strand that came from a dog — used to convict them, the FBI reviewed 2,500 cases in which its “elite” forensic lab analysts reported a match used by the prosecution. The cases occurred during more than two decades before 2000.
Of the 268 cases examined so far, The Washington Post reported that 26 of the 28 examiners in the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of them, including cases where 32 defendants were sentenced to death.
Of those who received death sentences, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the newspaper said, citing information from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the Justice Department and the FBI with the post-conviction review.
These are appalling findings, and at least one member of Congress is calling on the department and the bureau to notify defendants in all of those 2,500 cases to inform them of the problem regarding what some are calling “junk science.”
In addition to FBI testimony, 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts were taught by the bureau examiners to testify on these forensic issues.
Tarrant County’s new district attorney, Sharen Wilson, has set up a Conviction Integrity Program as part of a Post Conviction Unit that will re-examine cases as warranted, communications officer Sam Jordan said, adding that “we will not be commenting on cases currently under investigation.”
Regarding the FBI findings, Jordan told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, “We are making inquiries to determine whether any of the affected Texas cases originated in Tarrant County. Should that be the case, we will be diligent in our investigation of the findings and their potential ramifications.”
That’s good to know.