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FBI hair analysis described as "complete disaster" Pt.1

In a criminal trial, evidence is important. Physical evidence, like a gun, bullet casings, illegal narcotics or financial records showing fraud, is often the key factor in obtaining a conviction. Indeed, the reason Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues are often so important, is that with the exclusion of items illegally seized, many a case must be dismissed.

So, when an expert witness for the state testifies that hair matching a defendant's hair was found at the scene or on a victim, and that the match is 100 percent certain, it can provide very compelling evidence that places a party at a crime scene. In some cases, such evidence could be the linchpin of the entire prosecution case, and with it, a defendant could be spending the rest of their life behind bars, or worse.

But what if the expert was wrong, and that because there was no scientifically recognized standard that could be used to make such a statement, could that testimony have any weight at all? In fact, would the lab technician be permitted to testify, since without a standard to evaluate the "evidence," there could be no expertise at all?

It comes as more than slightly problematic that report looking at the FBI's forensic laboratory "gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000."

"In almost all trials." After looking at 200 convictions, they found 14 of those convicted either died in prison or were executed. Of course, the hair match testimony may not have been the only evidence used to win the conviction.

But what is more disturbing is the fact that perhaps the preeminent crime lab in the U.S. did not just make one or two errors in handling this evidence. They made errors in virtually every case, and what is more, 95 percent of these mistakes were made in the prosecutions favor. 

And they were made for decades.

Washingtonpost.com, "FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades," Spencer S. Hsu, April 18, 2015

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