Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to convictions of potentially innocent people nationwide, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled, reports the Washington Post. Officials began reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, the Post says.
In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts. As a result, hundreds of defendants remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects. Justice Department officials said they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.