FBI So Sorry Its Agents Lied About That Gross Hair Evidence For All Those Years
Were you a defendant in a criminal case between 1970-2000? (You probably were.) Was it a serious crime in which prosecutors tried to match your hair to one at a crime scene? And did they use an FBI forensics expert to testify as to said match? Because if so, according to FBI, there's a chance that Lady Justice wasletting the testifying agent put his stupid, doughy finger on the scales.
And when we say "chance," we're not talking Nursing Home Bingo odds, or even a coin flip. Per the Washington Post, you got screwed.
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 FBI identified 2,500 cases during the time period in question where its agents declared a match. So there are hundreds of additional cases in need of review. Yet judging by the numbers of "overstated" matches already discovered, the witnesses' testimonies must have transpired as follows.
Prosecutor: I'm going to show you what has been marked as Exhibit 27. What color is the hair in Exhibit 27?
FBI "Expert": Brown.
Prosecutor: And do you recognize the color of the defendant’s hair?
FBI "Expert": Yes, it's brown.
Prosecutor: So in your elite, expert opinion, taking into account your years of testimony in other cases, can you say for certain this is a match to the defendant's hair?
FBI "Expert": Oh yeah, I mean, just look at it. He's a brown-haired murdering bastard.
Judge: Ummmm. Overruled, sure why not. He's an expert, folks.
Prosecutor: I have no further questions.
Four defendants have been exonerated since the NACDL, Innocence Project, and FBI started looking into what the Post described as an "elite" forensic unit, "elite" now being another word for "Bungling Fuckwit." All of these defendants served between 20-30 years in prison prior to their release. Nine of these cases involve convicted criminals already executed. About 20 additional defendants remain on death row, while still others have died in prison because "win some, lose some," I guess. Furthermore, while DNA testing lent more accuracy to the process after 2000, the Bureau took 40 years before developing guidelines for its testifying agents. No PowerPoint. No pamphlet. No tips scribbled on a bar napkin.
The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court.
Like they say, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by three separate, yet equally, important groups: the police, the district attorneys, and the FBI microscopic hair comparison investigators who just make shit up as they go along.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Of course, the mere fact that these FBI witnesses were telling the opposite of the whole truth doesn't necessarily mean every defendant was innocent. However, an expert witness, especially from the esteemed FBI with a degree in forensic such-and-such, carries a ton of weight at trial. Similarly, a willing expert witness is a pretty nice card to play when negotiating a plea deal. ("Oh, you have a good character witness named, 'Mom'? Good luck. I got this bespectacled agent who's going to hold a solitary follicle up to the light and say it belongs to your client. It will be quite dramatic.") And while the Post did not break the cases down by race or income, I'd be willing to bet it's not an "overstatement" to say that few defendants would have been able to hire their own forensic experts.
Sadly, while the FBI (in this better-way-late-than-never scenario) is attempting to proactively address the possibly bogus convictions, locating physical evidence from 30-40 years ago isn't always possible. Convincing local judges and prosecutors to look into these cases is not going to be easy because, hey, do they really have the time? The breadth of the fuck up is also staggering, with 46 states and DC already involved. The odds that all of the still-alive defendants get a fair shake seems pretty slim. (You can see how many times your state used the bogus testimony here. Special shout out to Florida for topping the charts with your 42 defendants and 10 on death row! Suck it, Texas.)
But since it's imperative that the FBI spends so much time and energy entrapping wannabe terrorist idiots, can we honestly expect that appropriate resources will be delegated for these hardened convicts? This is your Justice System at work, America. Happy Monday.