The Justice Department acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000, reports the Washington Post. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory's microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, says the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.
The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison. FBI errors do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict's guilt. Defendants and prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated. The admissions mark a watershed in one of the largest U.S. forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of courts to keep bogus scientific information from juries. The question now is how state authorities and courts will respond to findings that confirm problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques like hair and bite-mark comparisons that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989. Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project said, “The FBI's three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”