A new scientific report shows serious flaws in FBI testimony in hundreds of criminal cases involving evidence on the chemical composition of bullets, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The report stopped short of condemning the forensic method, but it proposed changes in how the bureau portrayed bullet-lead evidence that would significantly undercut the technique’s usefulness in a criminal trial, experts said. “If this technique had not been used for years to send people to prison, no reasonable scholars of forensic evidence would consider it ready for court,” said William Thompson, professor of law and criminology at University of California- Irvine.
The report called FBI testimony that crime-scene bullets could be linked to bullets found in a box owned by a suspect, or to similar boxes manufactured at the same time, “seriously misleading” and “objectionable.” The findings could prompt the reopening of cases in which bullet-lead analysis played a role in convictions. FBI examiners have testified about the method in about 500 cases since 1980. The Justice Department is considering whether “anything in the report should be conveyed to prosecutors” about reviewing such cases, said FBI lab director Dwight E. Adams.
A Los Angeles Times investigation of bullet matching last year suggested that the FBI’s use of the technique might have greatly inflated its scientific validity. The new report was conducted by a panel of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academies, the nation’s preeminent scientific society.