According to a report from The Washington Post, the FBI has acknowledged that examiners from the agency’s microscopic hair comparison unit had overstated forensic matches for over two decades prior to the year 2000 during criminal trials.
The Post reported that 26 out of 28 examiners in the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit gave flawed testimony, which was beneficial to prosecutors, in 257 of 268 reviewed criminal trials that used hair evidence against defendants. There were about 2,500 cases identified by the FBI for review; the government agreed to release the findings of the first 200 reviewed cases.
The Post reported that “The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.”
The cases included 32 defendants who were later given a death sentence. Fourteen defendants of the 32 sentenced to death have either died in prison or have been executed, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project.
The Post pointed out that the flawed testimony regarding hair matches did not necessarily mean that hair evidence was the only evidence used to prosecute a defendant.
Four defendants have been exonerated. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors have been informed of the recent findings in case of possible appeals.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has urged the FBI and Justice Department to notify all of the defendants in roughly 2,500 cases that involved a hair match. Blumenthal, a former prosecutor, said that “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.”