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News Link • Criminal Justice System

If you can't trust the FBI crime lab, America, you have a problem

The paper pursuing this story two years ago, and have continued to push on it as the Department of Justice and the FBI point fingers at each other instead of reinvestigating the cases of some 2600 people whose guilt is now in some doubt thanks to an overreliance on hair and fiber matching. This includes 45 death row inmates, and several who have already been put to death. The FBI knows this kind of visual hair matching is not an exact science, but according to the Post, when placed on the stand, their agents tended to oversell its reliability as evidence. Official FBI policy, however, says that it is impossible to definitively identify one suspect as the origin of a hair sample to the exclusion of all other people. Most of these contested cases are from the 1980s and 1990s, during the childhood of DNA testing. Prosecutors were sometimes informed of the problems in these cases, but defendants rarely were. It seems as if this type of matching was always pretty thin.

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