Hair evidence analysis is not so great

I came across this very interesting press release which stated that in many FBI cases hair analysis’ reliability was exaggerated when making a positive identification in FBI cases.  These include 27 capital cases.

According to the press release, the FBI labs reports have consistently asserted that hair analysis can’t be used to make a positive identification.  However, some FBI agents asserted that hair analysis led to near-certain matches.

In other words, the practice of using hair analysis was deemed “highly unreliable” by the National Academy of Science.  Even though it is possible to conduct hair microscopy and find similarities among various samples, “in many cases the FBI analysts were overstating the significance of these similarities, often leaving juries with the false impression that a hair recovered from the crime scene must have come from the defendant and could not have come from anyone else.” (italics and underline added).

The FBI and the Justice Department uncovered the cases in a review of more than 20,000 lab files that was undertaken in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the story says.  So far, about 15,000 files have been reviewed, turning up about 2,100 cases in which hair evidence was used and 120 convictions that could be problematic, including the 27 capital cases.

The Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld made the following statement:

The government’s willingness to admit error and accept its duty to correct those errors in an extraordinarily large number of cases is truly unprecedented.

The Justice Department will notify prosecutors, convicted defendants and their lawyers if a review panel finds FBI examiners made excessive claims. In such cases, the Justice Department will waive rules that restrict post-conviction appeals and will test DNA evidence upon the request of judges or prosecutors.

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Filed under civil rights, courts, discovery, federal, Privacy Rights

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