Thursday Jul 12, 201212:00 AM GMT
Justice Dept., FBI to review use of forensic evidence in thousands of cases
Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:59PM
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FBI DNA Laboratory

The FBI will review thousands of convictions in the largest study in its history to find out if faulty lab work led to wrongful convictions, officials say.

 

The focus is on work done by hair and fiber specialists at the FBI laboratory, which does forensic work for local and state as well as national law enforcement agencies, The Washington Post reported. The agency plans to review all cases dating back to at least 1985.

 

"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," Nanda Chitre, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday. "We have dedicated considerable time and resources to addressing these issues, with the goal of reaching final determinations in the coming months."

 

The Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to help clear the wrongly convicted, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will help with the review, Chitre said.

 

The Post reported in April that the Justice Department knew of faulty work at the FBI lab but had not reviewed cases in which the findings might have led to a wrongful conviction or notified those convicted or their lawyers of possibly dubious evidence. UPI

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

The review comes as the National Academy of Sciences is urging the White House and Congress to remove crime labs from police and prosecutors' control, or at least to strengthen the science and standards underpinning the nation's forensic science system. Washington Post

 

Details of how the new FBI review will be conducted remain unclear. The exact number of cases that will be reviewed is unknown. The FBI is starting with more than 10,000 cases referred to all hair and fiber examiners. From those, the focus will be on a smaller number of hair examinations that resulted in positive findings and a conviction. oregonlive.com

 

It also is unclear whether the review will focus only on exaggerated testimony by FBI examiners or also on scientifically unfounded statements made by others trained by the FBI, or made by prosecutors. Also unclear is at what point government officials will notify defense attorneys or the Innocence Project. oregonlive.com

 

In past reviews, the department kept results secret and gave findings only to prosecutors, who then determined whether to turn them over to the defense. Washington Post

 

SM/HJ

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