Inaccurate forensic evidence can have steep consequences for the accused

Forensic evidence is often viewed as reliable, but errors and associated wrongful convictions may occur due to mistakes, unproven techniques or misconduct.

Forensic evidence is often treated as a source of objective and accurate information in Wilmington criminal cases. This evidence may even be decisive in cases in which people have been accused of violent crimes or sexual offenses. Unfortunately, this evidence isn't always as accurate as people believe.

The Innocence Project states that nearly half of people exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence were originally convicted based on forensic evidence. Many of these cases may have involved errors, misconduct or scientific techniques that were not properly tested and reviewed. Sadly, regardless of the underlying factors, these evidence errors often have devastating consequences for the wrongly accused.

ERRORS RECENTLY REVEALED

The gravity of these errors was recently underscored when the FBI conducted a review of criminal cases involving hair microscopy evidence. According to The Washington Post, the FBI looked over 500 cases that FBI analysts testified during and reported the following disturbing findings:

  • In 90 percent of general cases, and in 98 percent of cases in which analysts gave evidence against defendants, the analysts made flawed statements.
  • Out of the 28 analysts who testified during these cases, 26 gave inaccurate or incorrect testimony at some point.
  • Altogether, 257 trials, including 32 death penalty cases, involved forensic evidence that was flawed.

Three of the reviewed cases involved people who were charged in North Carolina. In one of these cases, a man is now serving life in prison after being convicted of charges of rape. The man was convicted on the basis of hair evidence that would not even be considered admissible today.

During the man's trial, an FBI analyst testified that the chances of the analyzed hair belonging to someone else were 1 in 1,000. There is no accepted research to support this assertion, and the recent FBI review concluded that this statement was not scientifically accurate. The man is now pursuing a new trial. Sadly, there may be many other people who have also served time after being convicted based on questionable evidence.

WHY EVIDENCE ISSUES OCCUR

The type of evidence that the ongoing FBI review is focusing on is no longer used to support criminal charges. Still, the findings have troubling implications. The accuracy issues that the review has uncovered may occur with many types of forensic evidence.

The Innocence Project explains that forensic evidence is often presented in trial as fully accurate. In reality, some methods, such as firearm tool mark analysis, have not been verified as scientifically reliable. Techniques that are considered accurate, such as DNA testing, can also yield incorrect results if analysts make mistakes. Intentional misconduct on the part of analysts, although rare, is also a danger that should be taken into account.

Together, these factors can create a significant risk of wrongful convictions, which is a possibility that should not be overlooked during criminal cases. It is advisable for anyone facing serious charges supported by forensic evidence to consider speaking to a defense attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on challenging this evidence or ensuring that other relevant information is not ignored.

Keywords: wrongful, conviction, DNA, evidence