“FAULTY FORENSICS”: With the FBI and Justice Department Now Reviewing Thousands of Criminal Cases with Questionable Forensic Evidence, How Many Convictions Will Be Overturned?
Last week’s announcement that the FBI and Justice Department will review thousands of cases to see if “faulty forensics” might have been responsible for wrongful convictions was important news for the many individuals currently serving prison time for crimes they may not have committed. This review – the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI, and centering on a microscopic hair examination conducted by the FBI dating back to at least 1985 – could lead to new trials, and possible overturned convictions, for those who may have been wrongly convicted of a crime.
The idea that so many people may have been wrongfully convicted based on faulty forensic evidence is distressing to say the least – but even more disturbing is the idea, as first reported in The Washington Post in April, that Justice Department officials “had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases.” And further, although they may have known about potential flawed forensics, the newspaper further reported that “prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.”
Working with both the NY-based Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the FBI and Justice Department have noted that their goal is to “reach a final determination in the coming months.” However, for those who have been wrongfully convicted and who are currently in prison – and those whose lives may have been ruined forever due to flawed forensic evidence – even a few more months seem a long time to wait.
Here on Long Island — after seeing the fallout from the now shuttered Nassau County Crime Lab — the idea of flawed forensic evidence and potential crime lab errors doesn’t come as a surprise. However, for such a major review of forensic evidence to take place (with reports estimating that the FBI is starting with more than 10,000 cases referred to all hair and fiber examiners), it is becoming more and more clear that mistakes do happen when it comes to using forensic evidence to secure a conviction … and becoming more apparent that something needs to be done to ensure that these types of crime lab errors don’t end up ruining the lives of innocent people.
As crime labs across the country continue to face increased scrutiny, and as this major undertaking of the review of thousands of cases gets underway, we can only hope that any wrongful convictions due to “faulty forensics” are not only identified, but rectified. While forensic evidence remains a critical component to many cases, we need to make sure that there are no flaws in forensic techniques and that careful attention is paid to the review and testing of any, and all, forensic evidence. Mistakes like this shouldn’t happen in our criminal justice system – and innocent people shouldn’t go to prison for crimes they did not commit.
As criminal defense attorneys, we will continue to monitor how this widespread review of forensic evidence will play out throughout the country in the months to come – and keep you updated as to new developments, new trials – and possibly new starts in life – for those individuals wrongly convicted of crimes who may soon be given another chance. In addition, we remain committed to doing all that we can in our capacity as defense counsel to ensure that the highest standards are followed in the review of any and all forensic evidence for those accused of any type of crime so that, hopefully, flawed forensics will one day become a thing of the past in our criminal justice system.
Read the Washington Post coverage of this story here: www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/justice-dept-fbi-to-review-use-of-forensic-evidence-in-thousands-of-cases/2012/07/10/gJQAT6DlbW_story.html