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Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates stood before a packed conference room in Las Vegas, last month, and announced the DOJ plans to expand their massive review of flawed FBI hair analysis to potentially all pattern-based forensic disciplines.
Similar overstatements—discovered last year in testimony regarding microscopic hair comparisons dating back decades—may have “crept” into other disciplines, Yates said. Disciplines like fingerprint examinations, ballistic measurements and fiber analysis.
“The probative value of the evidence wasn’t always communicated,” Yates said, and that lack of communication may have led to wrongful convictions. The cases involve 46 states and include 32 defendants that were sentenced to death, according to reports.
Now, even laboratories outside the FBI that do work for the DOJ are coming under the microscope, reported the Washington Post, this week.
But how many cases are being reviewed?
While the DOJ has been tightlipped on the specifics, Yates and company recruited outgoing American Academy of Forensic Sciences president Victor W. Weedn to help with the massive undertaking, according to the Post article.
“We’ve learned that what we thought we were doing right, wasn’t probably as it should be,” Weedn said in an exclusive interview in Las Vegas at the AAFS annual meeting. “Truly, we all should be pleased that all this happened and transpired. It’s really an openness, and we rightly are moving forward.”
Weedn, the chairman of the George Washington University Department of Forensic Science, told Forensic Magazine that science has come a long way since 2000.
“Science marches on. The hair analysis flaws are on old cases,” he said. “We, as a science, have moved on.”
The proposed review could extend to almost all pattern-based evidence from fingerprints to bite-marks, although the exact disciplines remain unclear. Even talking openly about systemic problems inherent in some forensic disciplines, and moving toward fixing, or at least better understanding, those problems is certainly a step in the right direction for the DOJ, Weedn said.
“That represents progress. It’s now about root cause analysis as opposed to blame,” he said.