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FBI admits to routinely giving flawed forensic evidence in death penalty cases


Forensic evidence

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(NaturalNews) In the latest example of how abusive our government has become, the Justice Department and FBI have admitted recently that its forensic analysts lied repeatedly, over decades, about evidence, in order to help federal prosecutors win convictions.

As reported by The Washington Post, both entities "formally acknowledged" that almost all the examiners in an elite FBI forensic division provided false testimony in nearly every trial in which they were called to offer evidence against criminal defendants throughout at 20-year period prior to 2000.

Hundreds of flawed cases already found

The paper further reported:

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory's microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country's largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.


The phony testimony -- which the Post describes as "FBI errors" -- did not mean that other evidence of guilt was absent in the reviewed cases. But that may not matter: The paper said federal and state prosecutors, along with defendants, in 46 states are currently being notified that there may be grounds for appeal in some cases.

Already, four people who were convicted in part because of the false testimony have been exonerated.

The admissions of wrongdoing have become part of what is already one of the country's broadest forensic scandals. Legal analysts have told the Post that the cases represent a major failure on the part of the country's courts that have, for decades, failed to keep phony scientific information from juries.

They add that now the question is how state officials and courts will respond to findings that served to confirm long-held beliefs that there were problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques (such as hair and bite-mark comparisons) that have led to wrongful convictions in more than 25 percent of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989, the Post noted.

Lying by the numbers

According to a graphic published with the Post's web-based story:

-- FBI examiners provided false testimony in 257 of 268 trials analyzed, or more than 95 percent;

-- 32 cases involved the death penalty; according to this graphic, 10 of those convicted have been put to death;

-- the FBI is currently in the process of completing 900 lab reports; and

-- there are 284 defendants who account for the 257 cases where there was flawed forensic testimony -- 231 state convictions and 53 federal convictions.

Thousands of cases to be examined

The FBI and Justice Department, in a statement, promised to continue devoting efforts to address all cases, adding that the DoJ in general is "committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance.

"The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science," the statement continued.

A co-founder of the Innocence Project, Peter Neufeld, praised the FBI and the DoJ for their collaborative effort to root out the cases where false testimony was used to convict. However, he added in a statement to the Post, "The FBI's three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster."

"We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn't stopped much sooner," Neufeld noted.

In all, the FBI and DoJ are examining about 2,500 cases, the Post noted. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former prosecutor, has asked them both to notify defendants in each of those cases, even if the agencies have yet to review them.

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com

http://www.innocenceproject.org

http://www.nytimes.com

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