The US Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that over a more than two-decade period before 2000, nearly every FBI examiner gave flawed forensic hair testimony in almost all trials of criminal defendants reviewed so far, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The cases examined include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death, 14 of whom have been either executed or died in prison. The scandal raises the very real probability that innocent people have been sent to their deaths, and that many more wrongfully convicted are languishing on death rows across the US due to FBI analysts’ fraudulent testimony.
Testimony involving pattern-based forensic techniques—such as hair, bite-mark, and tire track comparisons—has contributed to wrongful convictions in more than a quarter of the 329 defendants’ cases that have been exonerated in the US since 1989. In their pursuit of convictions prosecutors across the country have often relied on FBI analysts’ overstated testimony on hair samples, incorrectly citing them as definitive proof of a defendant’s guilt.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project are assisting the government in the nation’s largest post-conviction review of the FBI’s questioned forensic evidence. The groups determined that 26 of 28 examiners in the elite FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.
The nation’s courts have allowed the bogus testimony, masquerading as definitive scientific evidence of defendants’ guilt, to railroad innocent people and consign them to decades in prison, life in prison, or death row and the execution chamber.