For decades the FBI has been using hair analysis and other forms of DNA testing to aid in the conviction of defendants. The science has certainly helped defendants who are accused of violent crimes, murder and rape to clear their name, too, but the FBI has recently announced that it will be looking into some of its cases to check for faulty science. One of the biggest problems the FBI has had, it seems, is agents making claims about hair analysis that can’t be supported by science. When those statements led to a conviction, it is very possible that the wrong person was convicted.
The review will start with cases in which the defendants were sentenced to death row, meaning Minnesota cases won’t be reviewed for a while. When they are, however, there may be good news for Minnesotans who are locked up for serious sex crimes they never committed.
Unfortunately, juries are easily persuaded by DNA evidence. When someone gets up and says that hair found at the crime scene matches the defendant’s or that hair is so unique that it could not possibly belong to anyone else, the jury is likely to take that testimony at face value. Unfortunately, if police or scientists are stretching the truth, this could have disastrous effects.
Fortunately, the FBI has announced that it will be reviewing a large number of cases. Moreover, it has said that it will waive any statute of limitations arguments or federal rules that would otherwise prohibit an appeal.
Although this will not initially affect Minnesota, many individuals in Minnesota’s prisons will eventually have their convictions reviewed after years in prison.
Source: The Washington Post, “U.S. reviewing 27 death penalty convictions for FBI forensic testimony errors,” Spence S. Hsu, July 17, 2013