Investigation Finds Forensic Flaws in Every FBI Case Reviewed

In a finding that anyone who has been paying attention to the issue should find entirely unsurprising, an FBI review of criminal cases found flawed forensic evidence in every single case reviewed. So naturally, they stopped reviewing cases because that bothered them.

Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.

The findings troubled the bureau, and it stopped the review of convictions last August. Case reviews resumed this month at the order of the Justice Department, the officials said.

U.S. officials began the inquiry after The Washington Post reported two years ago that flawed forensic evidence involving microscopic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people. Most of those defendants never were told of the problems in their cases.

The inquiry includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s in which the FBI’s hair and fiber unit reported a match to a crime-scene sample before DNA testing of hair became common. The FBI had reviewed about 160 cases before it stopped, officials said.

The investigation resumed after the Justice Department’s inspector general excoriated the department and the FBI for unacceptable delays and inadequate investigation in a separate inquiry from the mid-1990s. The inspector general found in that probe that three defendants were executed and a fourth died on death row in the five years it took officials to reexamine 60 death-row convictions that were potentially tainted by agent misconduct, mostly involving the same FBI hair and fiber analysis unit now under scrutiny.

We need serious, comprehensive reform of our entire criminal justice system, including forensic analysis and testimony.

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • colnago80

    Relative to non-DNA hair matches, in the Simpson trial, an FBI hair and fiber expert testified as to hair samples recovered from the crime scene. He was specifically not allowed to use the term match when comparing them with exemplars obtained from Simpson. The most he could say was they were consistent and he had to admit under cross examination that hair comparisons were not reliable in terms of obtaining a match, unlike fingerprints and DNA.

  • Modusoperandi

    And when they see a monster in their bedroom, they pull the blanket up over their heads, which is funny because nobody goes to jail over it.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    The solution here is obvious. The House and Senate needs to pass legislation reforming the process.

    Now that I fixed that, let’s work on Immigration reform….

  • dugglebogey

    Is this a joke? Because I’ve heard it before:

    Patient: “Doctor it hurts when I raise my arm.” Doctor: “Don’t raise your arm.”

  • dhall

    Sounds like another reason to put an end to the death penalty. Again.

  • tsig

    Forensic labs should be independent and not under police contro.

  • tsig

    Add an “l” to the last post.

  • Abdul Alhazred

    Woo hoo!

    What if they’re ALL thrown out? :)

  • Marcus Ranum

    You’d expect there to be careers broken, apologies extended, and a complete halt to any executions based on FBI evidence, wouldn’t you? (crickets)

    Let’s rename them the FIB.