From microscopic hair analysis to fingerprinting, forensics that are treated as gospel in the courtroom have been proved to be anything but foolproof. The criminal justice system is grappling with the fallout from decades of faulty analysis in criminal cases that may have resulted in thousands of wrongful convictions, says the Christian Science Monitor. In what some have called one of the most egregious U.S. examples of tainted forensics, Annie Dookhan is serving a three-year prison sentence for charges including having provided false testimony and altering test results to manufacture positive results in Massachusetts drug cases. A state-ordered review in 2013 found that more than 40,000 cases could have been affected by Dookhan's misconduct. Prosecutors say the number was likely closer to 20,000.
By the end of 2014, only 1,187 defendants had filed for post-conviction relief. “A lot of defendants didn't know how to find the courthouse,” says Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union, “and many other defendants were too afraid to knock on the courthouse doors.” Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Dookhan defendants can be re-prosecuted only under the terms of their original plea agreements. They will not face harsher penalties if they seek to clear their names. High-profile examples of forensic evidence less clear-cut than is portrayed on “C.S.I.” have littered the headlines. Perhaps the most significant is last month's admission by the FBI that, after reviewing 500 cases that employed microscopic hair analysis, examiners' testimony contained erroneous statements in at least 90 percent of the cases.