FBI Forensics vs. the Scientific Community
In many criminal trials, the foundation of the state’s case is forensic evidence. But what if that forensic evidence couldn’t be trusted? What would happen if DNA tests yielded inconsistent results? What if autopsies couldn’t reveal the cause of death?
In 1994, Dr. Frederic Whitehurst reported concerns to the FBI that he found evidence of falsified lab reports, alterations of evidence, and “expert” witnesses testifying outside their areas of expertise. After taking his evidence to the Department of Justice, the FBI retaliated against Whitehurst, attacked his credibility, and fired him from his position.
It would be ten years later that Whitehurst’s allegations were proven true. In 2015, the FBI confessed that its hair analysis methodology was deeply flawed and favored prosecutors in 95% of cases. This, aside from being a breach of basic civil rights, cost the U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars as previously closed cased had to be reopened in order to determine if the conviction was valid. There were at least 32 defendants who were sentenced to death in cases involving phony hair comparison science.
The FBI is in the Crosshairs of Legitimate Science Again
Several years after reports of fraudulent lab results were made available to the public, the FBI is again in the news amid complaints that it has invented yet another pseudoscience with which to convict defendants. In this case, the FBI has a team of about a dozen analysts who can analyze images down to their individual pixels to determine if faces, hands, and more match evidence they have found at crime scenes or video surveillance cameras. The unit specializes in facial identification and recognition.
The only problem is that scientists disagree with the methods used and argue that you can’t make determinations to a scientific certainty using these methods. The FBI, on the other hand, maintains that this method is valid and uses it frequently during trials.
These FBI examiners will tie defendants to crime scenes using specious analysis gleaned from comparisons made on a pixel by pixel basis of images. The provide jurors with fabricated statistics in order to convince them that there is a tiny margin for error.
The FBI used this same analysis successful in cases where they matched bullets to guns. The only problem was, they were assuming that one gun could leave similar (but not identical) patterns and they presented this as evidence of an exact match to the jury.
The Money Game
The FBI has nearly infinite resources to throw at a case. Most defendants are operating on limited resources. Getting experts to testify against the FBI is costly. Much depends on who the jury finds more convincing. In some cases, defendants lack the resources to bring opposing experts into the courtroom. Juries are left to consider the FBI’s “experts” versus the defense counsel’s cross-examination. This is why defendants, whether they are guilty or innocent, are convicted by federal prosecutors.
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