False Testimony By FBI Examiners Could Have Convicted Innocent People

The FBI formally acknowledged giving false testimony in 257 trials for more than twenty years. Remarkably, flawed testimony by FBI forensic examiners included cases where 32 defendants were sentenced to death.

Fourteen of those prisoners were either executed or died in prison as a result of false testimony and evidence provided by FBI analysts and examiners.

In nearly every trial, for more than a two-decade period before 2000, the FBI and the United States Justice Department declared that nearly every elite FBI forensic examiner gave flawed testimony against criminal defendants.

Since 1989, hair and bite-mark comparisons provided by FBI forensic examiners led to wrongful convictions in more than twenty-five percent of 329 cases involving DNA-exoneration cases, according to a Washington Post article.

In April 2012, the Washington Post reported Justice Department officials were aware of the fact that flawed forensic analysis might result in innocent individuals being convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Later that year, Nanda Chitre, a Justice Department spokesperson, announced that they would conduct a review.

“The Department and the FBI are in the process of identifying historical cases for review where a microscopic hair examination conducted by the FBI was among the evidence in a case that resulted in a conviction. We have dedicated considerable time and resources to addressing these issues, with the goal of reaching final determinations in the coming months.”

So far, results from the review actually confirm FBI experts gave false testimony in court, citing misleading and incomplete statistics of hair matches found at crime scenes.

False Testimony By FBI Forensics Examiners
Chart of flawed forensic hair testimony from FBI Lab. (Photo via National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project)

Last week, the Justice Department and FBI said they would continue addressing all cases and they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance.”

“The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor summoned the Justice Department and FBI to contact every defendant in all 2,500 cases involving FBI hair match analysis, and gather more information on each case.

Sen. Blumenthal shared his concern about the false testimony and evidence provided by FBI examiners.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law.”

Testimony by FBI forensic examiners lacked scientific evidence in about 90 percent of cases, including 34 cases involving death-sentences.

The FBI said they are close to completing their review of about 900 lab reports and 350 trial testimonies; however, they have nearly 1,200 more cases to review. The agency stated that it’s been difficult for them to gather information on 700 cases because prosecutors and police have not responded to the bureau’s request for more information.

Additionally, the FBI said it’s been difficult in trying to review cases before 1985, since the files are not computerized.

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project expressed his concern.

“The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster. We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner.”

According to the Washington Post, the FBI examiners who gave false testimony and whose work is currently under review actually taught local and state crime lab analysts to testify in court, in the same manner.

The false testimony by FBI examiners does not signify there was a lack of evidence to find a defendant guilty. Defendants in earlier trials may have received a guilty verdict based on other evidence submitted by police and the prosecution.

Nonetheless, in the one of the United States’ largest forensic scandals, officials are continuing their efforts in notifying federal and state prosecutors, as well as defendants in Washington D.C. and 46 states to determine if there are grounds for appeals.

[Featured image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]