Washington, DC (Feb. 24, 2016) – Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates delivered important remarks today during the 68th Annual Scientific Meeting Hosted by the American Academy of Forensic Science in Las Vegas, Nevada. In those remarks, there is a clear recognition of the importance of the integrity and reliability of that which is admitted as forensic science in criminal trials in America. Forensic science "brings all of us closer to the truth—whether it's identifying the perpetrator of a crime or clearing the innocent," Yates said.
In her remarks, the Deputy Attorney General announced that the FBI will soon be soliciting bids "for an independent review—or 'root cause analysis'—to determine what went wrong and why in the hair analysis field." In addition, she announced that the Department is committed to taking a closer look at a wider variety of forensic disciplines.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: "NACDL welcomes the Deputy Attorney General's effort to strengthen forensic science. The announcement concerning the 'root cause analysis' review is especially heartening. And the Association is delighted that the Justice Department has committed to looking at a wider array of disciplines. That said, as relates to the announcement that the FBI is preparing 'Approved Scientific Standards for Testimony and Reports,' we strongly urge the Department and the FBI to seek out the very best outside experts, on statistics and probabilities among other areas, as they develop these standards."
"This is the start of a significant change in the quality of forensic evidence introduced in criminal trials," said NACDL President E.G. "Gerry" Morris. "If the FBI shows the same commitment to straightening out the bad practices in the past in other pattern and impression practices as they have in the context of microscopic hair comparison, this will be a very good thing for the integrity of the American criminal justice system."
In her remarks, Yates also praised NACDL and the Innocence Project for the organizations' contributions:
"As many of you know, last April, the Justice Department released a statement with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) regarding the FBI's use of microscopic hair comparison analysis prior to the year 2000. Our joint review of lab examiners' testimony revealed that at least 90 percent of trial transcripts contained erroneous statements relating to forensic hair analysis. We take this matter very seriously, and I want to thank everyone at the FBI, the Innocence Project and NACDL for their unprecedented collaboration as we seek to identify past errors and ensure that justice is done in each case."
The United States Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Innocence Project, and NACDL reported in April 2015 that the FBI has concluded that the examiners' testimony in at least 90 percent of trial transcripts the Bureau analyzed as part of its Microscopic Hair Comparison Analysis Review contained erroneous statements. Twenty-seven of twenty-eight FBI agents/analysts provided either testimony with erroneous statements or submitted laboratory reports with erroneous statements. The review focuses on cases worked prior to 2000, when mitochondrial DNA testing on hair became routine at the FBI. That review is ongoing.
Just last month, the first new trial was granted arising out of flawed microscopic hair comparison analysis testimony unearthed as part of this review. It was the case of George D. Perrot in Massachusetts, covered here.
Anyone involved in a case that utilized microscopic hair comparison evidence is encouraged to contact NACDL Post-Conviction Counsel Amelia Maxfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-465-7646.
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To learn more about the Microscopic Hair Comparison Review Project, please visit http://www.nacdl.org/haircomparison/.
To access of copy of NACDL's "Principles and Recommendation to Strengthen Forensic Evidence and Its Presentation in the Courtroom," please click here.
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