Last week, The Washington Post revealed that in 268 trials dating back to 1972, 26 out of 28 examiners within the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit “overstated forensic matches in a way that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent” of the cases. These included cases where 14 people have since been either executed or died in prison.
The hair analysis review — the largest-ever post-conviction review of questionable forensic evidence by the FBI — has been ongoing since 2012. The review is a joint effort by the FBI, Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The preliminary results announced last week represent just a small percentage of the nearly 3,000 criminal cases in which the FBI hair examiners may have provided analysis. Of the 329 DNA exonerations to date, 74 involved flawed hair evidence analysis.
While these revelations are certainly disturbing — and the implications alarming — the reality is that they represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to flawed forensics.