FBI Investigates Potentially Flawed Scientific Conclusions in 27 Death Penalty Cases

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has uncovered 27 death penalty cases in which experts at the FBI could have wrongfully linked defendants to crimes. The reviews are being launched with the concern that forensic experts may have exaggerated scientific conclusions and testimonies that led to convictions. The 27 cases were uncovered from an ongoing review launched last year of over 21,000 cases involving forensic evidence. It is too early to know if any of the cases resulted in wrongful convictions or if any are linked to death penalty sentences that have already been carried out, although the FBI has stated that they are interested in disclosing problems in any selected cases, even if the defendant has been executed.

The review has already led to a stay of execution for Willie Manning in Mississippi. An FBI agent at Manning’s trial testified that a hair found at the crime scene belonged to Manning, but the FBI later stated that the conclusion “exceeded the limits of science.” Hair evidence is of particular concern in the 27 cases. FBI lab reports have stated for decades that hair association cannot lead to positive identifications, but agents have still given testimony that different hairs have been a near certain match, even stating that hairs matched “to the exclusion of all others.”

The FBI is consulting with the Innocence Project, the Department of Justice, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the cases and plans to notify prosecution and defense if any mistakes are uncovered. There is hope that this review will encourage state and local labs to undergo similar reviews. Any significant findings could also lead to a renewed debate on the risk of the U.S. executing innocent people.

FBI logo via ubergizmo.com

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