FBI hair-matching gave fautly evidence for decades, but the cases are being reviewed.

What juror won’t take the word of a federal agent, and who in the jury box won’t be swayed by evidence found, analyzed and presented by a federal agent? It’s all in the title. “They know what they’re doing, so if they bring evidence to the courtroom it’s bound to be fail proof, right?” asks the idealistic, stars-and-stripes juror. Well, it seems that no, FBI agents are just as human as the rest of us.

A strand of human hair under the microscope. Image via wrongfulconvictionsblog A strand of human hair under the microscope.
Image via wrongfulconvictionsblog

To err is human, to overstate is just convenient

Hair matching has long been used by the FBI as a means to incriminate or exonerate a suspect of a crime. But the FBI’s hair-comparison unit actually gave unscientific testimony against criminal defendants for more than 20 years before 2000, according to the FBI and the Justice Dept. Among the FBI’s 28 microscopic hair experts, 26 “overstated forensic matches” to favor the prosecution in nearly all of the 268 cases reviewed so far, the reports.

“The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster,” says Peter Neufeld, who helped found the Innocence Project.

The cases reviewed include 32 defendants given the death sentence, of which 14 have already died in prison or were executed. About 2,500 cases where hair-matching was used to incriminate are being looked at in total.

Even if other evidence may have sufficed to convict those founds guilty in the cases, the FBI acknowledged the problem (hats off to them for manning up and admitting their mistake, at last) and agreed to work with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project in reviewing cases between 1972 and 1999.

Courts in 46 states and the District of Columbia are receiving information that can lead to appeals if defense lawyers, prosecutors or judges will be able, and willing.

The process of hair matching has been used by the FBI to obtain evidence for nearly three decades now.
Image via arstehnica

The Post reports that there isn’t any scientific standard for matching hair. Worse, the forensic-hair scandal is only part of an ongoing review of all criminal forensics, which the Post has reported on , , and .

“The forensic science system … has serious problems that can only be addressed by a national commitment to overhaul the current structure,” a science panel concluded back in 2009.


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