In the criminal justice system, prosecutors and defense attorneys often rely upon forensic evidence. Forensic experts are trained to use science to examine evidence and discover truths. However, information uncovered in recent years shows that much of the forensic and scientific truths used to convict hundreds to thousands of individuals in the U.S. were likely based on little more than speculation and convenience.
Recent new stories have shined a spotlight on allegations that testimony provided by members of the “elite FBI forensic unit” provided inaccurate and flawed testimony “in almost all trials in which they offered evidence…over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” Consequently, hundreds to thousands of men and women were likely prosecuted and convicted for crimes they never committed.
According to reports, FBI forensics experts routinely overstated the certainty with which evidence like hair samples and bite marks linked specific individuals to a crime. After reviewing hundreds of cases, members of the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers discovered that, in 95 percent of reviewed cases, forensics experts overstated the certainty of a match which often resulted in a defendant’s conviction.
To date, of those cases reviewed, 32 involved individuals who were sentenced to death. Tragically, 14 of these defendants have already died or been executed. Steps are currently being taken by legal advocacy groups to aid the government in determining the scope of the problem and the specific cases impacted. It’s unclear, however, what, if anything, the FBI plans to do with this information.
A few politicians have recently called for reforms in how forensic evidence is evaluated and weighed in criminal cases; however, they have failed to call for an investigation into the U.S. Department of Justice’s actions. This means that there will likely be no justice for the hundreds to thousands of individuals and their family members who are currently serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit.
Source: Slate, “Pseudoscience in the Witness Box: The FBI faked an entire field of forensic science,” Dahlia Lithwick, April 22, 2015