04.22.15

Peters Statement on FBI’s Flawed Hair Analysis

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) released the following statement in light of recent reports of flawed analysis in the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit:

“I believe Congress has a role to play to improve the science and standards that our criminal justice system depends on. Flawed or unscientific forensic evidence fails innocent individuals, lets criminals run free and undermines our criminal justice system. The Justice Department’s acknowledgment that the FBI consistently exaggerated the reliability of hair microscopy is deeply troubling. As the investigation continues, I plan to work with my colleagues to prioritize research funding and develop stronger forensic standards so that we are using the best scientific evidence to guide decisions in courtrooms across the country.”

 

BACKGROUND

The Washington Post reported recently that over more than two decades before 2000, the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit offered flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence. Of the 268 trials that have been reviewed so far in which hair evidence was used against defendants, FBI examiners gave flawed forensic testimony in 257 of them, or 96 percent. There are approximately 1,200 more cases that have been identified for review.

Additionally, in 2009, the National Academies found that “some forensic science disciplines are supported by little rigorous systematic research… [and much] more federal funding is needed,” a problem that could have long lasting and devastating consequences if not addressed.

The Commerce Committee has held three hearings emphasizing the need for better science and standards in forensics. In 2013, former DOJ Inspector General Michael Bromwich testified that “the challenge before us is to make a serious and sustained effort to address the deficiencies that have been identified and to improve the quality of justice provided throughout this country.”

Senator Peters serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. The Subcommittee has oversight of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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