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FBI hair-analysis program criticized, under strong scrutiny

On Behalf of | May 5, 2015 | Firm News

A principal with an advocacy group focused upon identifying and correcting unjust criminal law outcomes visited upon defendants through both error and bad-faith prosecutorial and police misconduct calls the work produced by the FBI’s microscopic hair analysis program “a complete disaster.”

Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project is not alone in that assessment. An investigative story by Slate Magazine refers to a “horrifying” expose on that subject authored by the Washington Post, with Slate detailing “shameful” errors that were spotlighted in the Post article.

Indeed, there seems ample cause for concern regarding the hair-comparison unit comprised of federal agents, especially in the wake of a large-scale review of its work conducted jointly in an investigation by Neufeld’s organization and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Among other things, here’s what a three-year look at the FBI forensic unit focusing upon microscopic hair analysis revealed: Examiners have for years been overstating hair matches in trials across the country.

And not just to a degree that marginally favors the prosecution. In fact, investigators of the program say that more than 90 percent of examiners offering trial testimony overstated matches in a manner that helped the prosecution. The Post stated that this held true “in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.”

That logically leads, of course, to questions regarding guilt and innocence in many cases. The joint investigation has helped fuel what is reportedly the most massive post-conviction review of questioned DNA evidence in the country’s history.

Slate notes that issues surrounding flawed science and testimony are not just present in select federal cases, given the fact that hundreds of local examiners across the country trained by the FBI have also been offering testimony in state trials.

The review has not yet taken on the urgency it merits, states Slate.

If/when it does, we will be sure to keep our readers in Arkansas and elsewhere timely apprised of material developments that occur.


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