After discovering that flawed testimonies were made by most FBI examiners in almost all trials offering hair forensics as evidence against defendants for the past several decades, the Justice Department and FBI formally acknowledged this error and have begun a long list of reviews.
The Washington Post reports that legal analysts have suspected problems with forensic techniques based on patterns for decades. Hair and bite mark comparisons have been criticized because the examiner is left to make a subjective call on whether the patterns match.
To put the gravity of this admission into perspective, the FBI has identified 2,500 cases so far that reported hair matches, with 342 completed reviews by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project.
Of the 342, there were 268 cases that used hair forensics to convict defendants, and 257 of these cases included wrongful testimonies from examiners.
In fact, 26 of 28 of these examiners gave exaggerated testimonies favoring prosecutors. That is 95 percent of cases in which forensics were inaccurately used against defendants from 1986 to 2000.
While there could be other evidence involved in these trials that lead to guilty convictions, this large of an error by the FBI could mean hundreds of others have been wrongly convicted or sentenced to death.
It’s likely that the 2,500 under review are just a fraction of the countless other cases that have suffered the same injustices because not all state records from decades ago are available, and some police and prosecutors aren’t answering requests for more information.
In addition, it’s possible that even more cases have been misguided by the same style of testimony. The FBI’s examiners under review have taught 500 to 1,000 other crime lab analysts nationwide their methods.
As a result, several states including New York, North Carolina and Texas have started reviewing cases involving hair forensics, and at least 15 others are expected to do the same.