Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Review of FBI forensic testimony: Major Development: Spencer Hsu reports in the Washington Post that the Justice Department is expanding its review of FBI forensic techniques beyond hair unit.

 "The Justice Department will expand its review of forensic testimony by the FBI Laboratory in closed criminal cases nationwide to ensure it has not overstated evidence against defendants, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced. In March, the department will lay out a framework for auditing samples of testimony that came from FBI units handling pattern-based evidence, such as tracing the impressions that guns leave on bullets, shoe treads, fibers, soil and other crime-scene evidence, department officials said this week. The FBI and other crime labs nationwide conduct more than 100,000 such examinations each year. Justice Department officials left open questions of which techniques and how many cases would be reviewed, using what standard over what time period, and whether convicted defendants would be notified if any errors are found. Yates linked the move to an FBI and department finding last year that nearly all FBI hair examiners overstated testimony about hair matches incriminating defendants during the two decades before 2000.........Hundreds of convicted defendants in hair-match cases have been notified of the testimony errors, and the bureau and the department are offering them new DNA testing and lowering barriers to appeals. Determining “whether the same kind of ‘testimonial overstatement’ . . . could have crept into other disciplines” would help “ensure the public’s ongoing confidence in the work we do,” Yates said.In a statement, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded the Justice Department “for taking responsibility and launching a full review so that the public can learn exactly what went wrong and how we can prevent this from ever happening again.” Yates’s proposal is among the broadest responses yet to a National Academy of Sciences panel report in February 2009 that questioned subjective comparisons of evidence by experts. The panel concluded that although examiners had long claimed to be able to match pattern evidence to a source with “absolute” or “scientific certainty,” only DNA analysis had been validated through statistical research..........Despite criticism from academics, courts have continued to allow the other types of forensic evidence.........The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was “pleased” that the department had committed to “involve outside experts and the scientific community” in the development of standards, senior resource counsel Vanessa Antoun said in a statement.
Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic, also commended Yates’s decision, saying an essential element “will be to recruit independent and external experts in the fields of statistics and probability.”

See also  Mike Bowers on his Blog  CSI DDS: Forensics in Focus under the heading  'The White House pushes foreward on further review of FBI pattern and trace evidence testimony: "Hair is gone, lead in bullets is out, bitemarks as “fingerprints” has died, graphology disappeared, so what’s next?
A lot."