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FBI admits flaws in decades of testimonies used in convictions

A few weeks ago, we started a conversation with our Columbia readers about evidence that is gathered using forensic science. Even though society as a whole might revere forensic evidence as the nail in the coffin for any criminal case, as our more frequent readers may remember from our post, new studies are pointing out the flaws inherent in the field of forensic science. These flaws, as you can imagine, result in wrongful convictions that may be difficult to appeal.

That's why the recent announcement made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation might aggravate a large number of people reading today's post. That's because in the announcement, the FBI admitted that testimonies given by forensic scientists in its microscopic hair comparison unit prior to the year 2000 could be incredibly flawed and might have actually led to a number of wrongful convictions.

Reports indicate that of the 268 trials that have already been reviewed by the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a large portion of forensic examiners overstated the accuracy of matches using hair comparison. This was found to be true in more than 95 percent of cases that have been reviewed at this time.

Even though the FBI's error might not lead to an exoneration in all cases -- in fact, there may be some cases in which other evidence was used to determine guilt -- it's worth pointing out that 14 cases involving potentially incorrect forensic evidence have already resulted in executions or deaths of convicts. Some of our Missouri readers may be wondering at this time, if the FBI's error had been caught sooner, would these potentially innocent prisoners have still lost their lives?

Though we don't always hear about every wrongful conviction, we know they happen in states across the nation. Unfortunately, as you probably know, these mistakes come at a steep price. Not only does a wrongful conviction cost an innocent person their freedom, it may also cost them their life as well, which is a price no one should have to pay because of someone else's mistake.

Source: The Washington Post, "FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades," Spencer S. Hsu, April 18, 2015

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