Wednesday, December 31, 2014

FBI forensic lab misconduct could affect 2,600 convictions, 45 death row cases

Nearly every criminal case the FBI and US Justice Department has reviewed during a major investigation that began in 2012 regarding an FBI lab unit has involved flawed forensic testimony, The Washington Post reported.
The review – originally spurred by a Post report in 2012 over flawed forensic testimony by Federal Bureau of Investigation lab technicians that may have led to convictions of hundreds of innocent people – was cut short last August when its findings “troubled the bureau,” according to the Post. The review was ordered by the Justice Department (DOJ) to resume this month, government officials said.
Most of the defendants in cases that involved possibly-botched testimony over microscopic hair matches were never told that their case was part of the review, which includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s. In these cases, the FBI’s hair and fiber unit claimed it found a match to crime-scene samples prior to the age of DNA testing of hair.
The FBI reviewed around 160 cases before halting the investigation 11 months ago, officials said. The probe resumed once the DOJ inspector general lambasted the FBI for the delay in this investigation and another involving the same forensic unit.
A DOJ spokesman said that by last August, reviews were completed and notifications offered for defendants in 23 cases, including 14 death-row cases, that FBI examiners “exceeded the limits of science” when linking hair to crime-scene evidence.
Yet the FBI restarted the review given concerns that forensic errors applied to the “vast majority” of cases. This restart caused major delays in the investigation, leading to objections by the DOJ in January. The FBI and DOJ standoff was finally resolved this month.

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