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The Courts Crime Government Stats Science

FBI Overstated Forensic Hair Matches In Nearly All Trials Before 2000 173

schwit1 writes The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory's microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country's largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence. The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.
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FBI Overstated Forensic Hair Matches In Nearly All Trials Before 2000

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2015 @01:43AM (#49503421)

    Anybody else surprised by this?

    Truth, justice... is simply not the American way.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2015 @03:55AM (#49503657)

      Truth & justice & the American Way = 0.

      As a limey, I always thought they were a list of options. After all, if "the American way" incorporated truth and justice, you would be able to say merely "the American way".

      • it is a list of options.

        Truth, --obvious
        Justice -- also obvious
        The american Way --Not obvious this is where money talks louder than truth or justice.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        One would think that truth leads to justice. So they aren't exclusive, but overlapping.
    • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @11:08AM (#49504979)

      Lord Acton hit the nail on the head. 128 years ago he wrote that, ""Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Unfortunately, no one has ever devised a way of running societies without giving power to certain individuals. With a very small number of honourable exceptions (which prove the rule), that power has corrupted them. We see it around us almost every day, and the people who rise to control entire nation states display the corruption due to power in singularly pure and concentrated form.

      The technicians working in the FBI labs had a very limited form of power, but within that particular domain their sway was almost unchallenged. What expert would dispute the word of the mighty FBI, what lawyer would challenge it, what judge or jury would not be impressed by it? And the technicians' bosses had more power, which was assuredly focused on the important task of getting convictions. I rather doubt that any lab technician at the FBI ever got much career advancement out of frequently discrediting prosecution evidence. Every bureaucratic organization measures itself according to a limited set of drastically oversimplified metrics, and conviction rate is an important metric for any law-enforcement organization. The higher up the tree you go, the greater the desire for more convictions, and the less the concern for whether they are justified or not.

      "One of the many reasons for the bewildering and tragic character of human existence is the fact that social organization is at once necessary and fatal. Men are forever creating such organizations for their own convenience and forever finding themselves the victims of their home-made monsters".
      - Aldous Huxley

  • by st0nes ( 1120305 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @01:45AM (#49503435) Homepage
    The same thing happened some years back with fingerprint evidence. The people who are responsible for the analysis of forensic evidence should be 'blind', i.e. they should not have access to the context of the case. If they are given two fingerprints to match, they should merely be asked whether or not they are a match, and not told where they come from or even which case they pertain to. Then there would be far less bias. Also, they should not testify in trials, merely issue an affidavit of their results.
    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @01:50AM (#49503441)

      That doesn't solve the problem. The FBI can simply fire or transfer elsewhere anyone who doesn't lean towards positive matches. It wouldn't take long for the experts to realise that saying yes a lot is good for their careers, but expressing doubt in court is going to lead to no more court appearances and a demotion to lab tech.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2015 @02:25AM (#49503523)

        simple solution. you mix in a control group, and you don't tell the people who determine the match which one is the 'real one'. That way, they can't have a bias, unless the people preparing the material secretly mark it or something, but nothing's perfect.

        • this assumes the FBI and/or Prosecutors actually want accurate results.

          they don't anymore, if they ever did.

          time spent on fingerprint analysis, dna testing, whatever with the result of "this is not the person you want" = 100% waste of time for everyone involved.
          If the result is "this is the person you want" = 100% useful time for everyone involved.

          And if an investigation into a crime takes an extended amount of time, but it is focused on a specific individual, the pressure to ONLY find that the evidence mak

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
            Conviction is more important than truth. The adversarial system is the problem. The poor person in the equation doesn't get fair treatment. Someone accused of something is presumed guilty until proven otherwise. This wasn't the intention, but it is the reality. If you are on trial, the jury assumes you are guilty, or they wouldn't be wasting everyone's time with a trial. Go on, ask people what they think about people who say they weren't speeding, and the only "proof" of their "crime" is a cop saying
          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            A hair versus a fingerprint. On average a person has 100,000 hairs on the head and they loose on average 100 every single day, that is 36,500 hairs over a year (have you any idea how long those hairs can lost and how far they could travel, attached to another persons clothing), for which the US legal system in all of it's rampant stupidity now holds you legally liable. Now add to this shitty testing, so basically a scam to enable easy prosecution and early promotions.

      • That issue could be solved by an outside auditing body. They would send in samples that are known to be matches or not matches, and search for a statistically significant deviation in outcomes. Of course, having an auditing body truly unassociated with the FBI/CIA/NSA/Local policing force would solve MOST issues with policing these days, and would ruin some of the nice little fiefdoms people have been spending the last few decades building... which is why it will never happen.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          The only acceptable solution (if you care about justice) is to stop putting so much weight on fingerprint evidence. It's basically worthless. The weight applied to DNA evidence needs to be scaled right back too.

          • The only acceptable solution (if you care about justice) is to stop putting so much weight on fingerprint evidence. It's basically worthless. The weight applied to DNA evidence needs to be scaled right back too.

            I'm not questioning that you're correct, but since eye witness testimony is even worse evidence than either fingerprint or DNA, what sort of evidence do you think should be accepted?

        • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:04AM (#49504065)

          some of the nice little fiefdoms people have been spending the last few decades building

          Last few decades???

          IN case you were unaware, the FBI handles kidnapping. Why? Because 80-odd years ago, Herbert Hoover decided the FBI needed some good publicity, and could get it with the Lindbergh kidnapping.

          IOW, fiefdom building has been going on forever - all it takes is a chance to get a bigger budget if you do something special....

      • You might be able to solve the problem(at the expense of a great deal of additional workload) by larding the caseload with samples specifically constructed to be non-matches; but then blinded and packaged the same as any other sample, to identify people who just lean positive; but that would probably require a lot of additional work to do in enough quantity to counteract the obvious pressure.
        • by Dragon Bait ( 997809 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @12:49PM (#49505423)

          You might be able to solve the problem(at the expense of a great deal of additional workload) by larding the caseload with samples specifically constructed to be non-matches; but then blinded and packaged the same as any other sample, to identify people who just lean positive; but that would probably require a lot of additional work to do in enough quantity to counteract the obvious pressure.

          Add in that on a random basis you don't have any legitimate suspects in the collection being analyzed. The goal isn't to find best match. The correct answer has to be none of the above on a regular basis as well.

    • This is where cross examination can be your best friend.

    • by binarstu ( 720435 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @03:25AM (#49503621)

      Even before that, though, we need high-quality, doubly blinded trials to establish how well any of these comparison-based forensic methods actually work. Evidently, a key problem with hair comparison was that no one actually had any idea how reliable it was for "matching" a sample to a suspect. It is now obvious that the false positive rate is completely unacceptable.

      We should have known this long before anyone even thought about using hair comparison evidence at trial, and the sad thing is that the experiments needed to rigorously evaluate this technique aren't even very complicated. For prosecutors, though, it is undoubtedly a lot more fun to impress juries with your scientific-sounding evidence and experts than it is to ask whether the evidence is actually reliable, and you can bet that the hair comparison "experts" were not in any hurry to show that their work was a sham.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        They do things like that for the first one. Once an evidence is on the "approved" list, you aren't allowed to question it. It's considered a waste of the court's time to have someone fighting a speeding ticket call in 10 experts on RADAR to impeach the speed gun, every time someone with enough money gets a speeding ticket. You can question the use that once, but not the underlying tech. It's illegal to question it (your jurisdiction may vary).
    • by blippo ( 158203 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @08:26AM (#49504283)

      I think that that's actually how it works here in Sweden.

      I seem to remember that it's also not always good. Since they only answer questions, more open ended searches are seldom performed.
      In one case where an elk killed a woman (unique case, apparently) the police got hung up on her husbands lawn mower (!) which happened to have traces
      of blood on the blades (which in fact could have been rust combined with other biological material ) and spent a year or so trying to convict him for murder,
      until someone actually saw a YouTube clip of an elk-attack and asked the lab if it could have in fact been an elk. Answer: Yes. Most likely.

      • For the Americans reading the above, replace the word "elk" with "moose". European elk is NOT the same as American elk (wapiti)....
        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          I don't know the case -- was it an American elk or a moose? Cuz both are dangerous under the wrong circumstances, but moose far more so.

          • I'm assuming European elk (American moose) - OP called it an elk, and referred to "here in Sweden"...

            And yes, a moose (European elk) is much more dangerous than a wapiti (American elk)

            • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

              Ah, I missed the Sweden reference, thanks. Too much stuff to read this morning and I'm skimming at best.

    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      And when rocks are given to a lab for dating, they shouldn't be given a "date range" that they are supposed to fall within.
    • by localman ( 111171 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @03:22PM (#49506195) Homepage

      It's happened with arson experts too. I remember reading a horrible story of a guy convicted of burning his family to death because all the experts described these "pour patterns" in the burnt floor, signifying liquid accelerant. After he was put to death, they figured out it was just carpet glue patterns.

      Between the way police feel free to shoot fleeing non-dangerous subjects these days, planting evidence in full view of other officers, lying on the stand to get convictions, and the labs and experts from every field falsifying results, I'd say our legal system is a disaster.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @01:56AM (#49503455) Journal

    I'm becoming more convinced that Police are often too lazy to do police work and now reviews of the cases shows evidence procedures stacked in favour of the prosecution. If the Court systems do not have mechanisms to self correct evidence procedures how can there be any trust that policing will lead to outcomes that protect society.

    Justice is impossible if the system is not Just.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      It's not just the police and courts, it's the jury too. I was a juror a few years ago on a case based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Most of the jurors simply couldn't accept that a real world case doesn't always rely on 3D slow motion video of bullets piercing internal organs and perfect DNA matches. They didn't want to think about the balance of probabilities of all the pieces of circumstantial evidence and decide if someone was guilty or not. They wanted cold hard forensic evidence to do that for t
      • by dcollins117 ( 1267462 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:00AM (#49504405)

        They didn't want to think about the balance of probabilities of all the pieces of circumstantial evidence and decide if someone was guilty or not. They wanted cold hard forensic evidence to do that for them.

        Isn't that how it's supposed to work? The defendant is supposed to be given the benefit of every doubt. That's part of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you've ever been accused of doing something you didn't do, you'll likely appreciate the value of this system.

        • Isn't that how it's supposed to work? The defendant is supposed to be given the benefit of every doubt.

          No. The standard is reasonable doubt, not every doubt.
          --
          JimFive

    • This is already the case in many smaller and traffic offences (In Belgium these are handled in Police Court, I'm sure there's a type of court like this in the US as well). It's basically your word against theirs and there is no way the judge will take yours. Same with slander or resisting arrest. Often the judge won't even hear your defence if you don't have a lawyer. You start talking and they just go: "listen, this is the offence, that's the fine. next!". They basically don't have time to treat proper att
    • by Kiwikwi ( 2734467 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:10AM (#49503929)

      Some facts about the U.S. justice system:

      * The Reid technique [wikipedia.org] is widely used for interrogations, a technique notorious for its effectiveness in enticing false confessions.
      * Only 5 % of convicted felons had their case tried in court; the rest make a plea bargain [pbs.org] (typically under threats of excessively long prison sentences and/or the death penalty).
      * Judges are elected [vox.com], subjecting them to the whims of public opinion and making them more politicians than impartial legal officials.
      * At least 4 % of people sentenced to death in the U.S. are innocent [forbes.com].
      * The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, [wikipedia.org] not just relative to the population size, but in absolute numbers.
      * U.S. private prisons sees $3+ billion in annual revenue [online-par...degree.org]... Not that that has anything to do with the above issues, I'm sure [wikipedia.org].

      The U.S. justice system is broken in so many ways, I'm certainly forgetting some things.

      • For better or worse my plan is to...

        -Convince my future children to study abroad in Scandinavia (or some other legitimately 1st world country) and ultimately move there
        -When they do, I'll follow
        -Give up on the United States as it's a poor excuse for a 1st world country (especially when we trail in virtually every measure)

        Consider watching the first 10 minutes of Newsroom [youtube.com] except that the anchor there has higher hopes and expectations than I do (i.e., much easier to go somewhere already fixed than liv
      • Some facts about the U.S. justice system:

        * Judges are elected [vox.com], subjecting them to the whims of public opinion and making them more politicians than impartial legal officials.

        Actually, judges in the U.S. justice system are appointed for life. State and municipal systems differ (some are elected, some are hired under civil service rules), but judges in the federal government are, in fact, appointed.

        Mind you, that doesn't make any of the rest of your points invalid, I just wanted to correct the record.

        • Not all federal judges are appointed for life. Some are, most aren't.

          • Article III, Section I of the US Constitution:

            The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior...

            "During good Behavior" basically means until impeached. Which judges are not appointed for life, and how does that get by the Supreme Court?

            • All Supreme Court judges fall under article iii, as do some district court judges, and I believe court of appeals judges. Lesser district court judges(magistrate judges), U.S. Tax court judges, and a few others are not.

  • Minimum retrial (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It does not matter if there was other evidence. A retrial should be done at the very least, then guilt/acquit decided on the then existing evidence. There is no way otherwise how much the hair comparison influenced the verdict no matter how small it might have been.

    And in addition a prosecution for false witness should be started against lab people, and prosecutor penalized heavily for having used flawed evidence. otherwise there is no way prosecution and involved people will learn. In fact that would tea
    • So wheres that stand relative to plea bargaining?
      If only 5% of felons have even been convicted in court. Then the majority have no case to retry after all they pleaded guilty.

       

    • Re:Minimum retrial (Score:5, Informative)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:04AM (#49504423)

      The article is very misleading on several points. It gives the impression that there was a problem "in almost all trials"; that's not what happened.

      Of the ~21000 requests for an analysis, the lab reported a match about ~2500 times. Of those, the evidence was used in something like 268 trials, and a retrospective analysis of the DNA revealed that the hair did indeed match almost 90% of the time.

      The bigger problem (which is where the "almost all") part came from is that when the evidence was actually presented at a trial, the expert witness overstated the reliability of the hair match; if they had stated that the analysis was only 90% accurate there wouldn't have been a problem.

      A retrial in the 27 or 28 cases in which DNA revealed a mismatch is certainly in order. Otherwise there is no problem with the conviction; a retrial would simply replace the hair match with a DNA match anyway.

      • Of those, the evidence was used in something like 268 trials, and a retrospective analysis of the DNA revealed that the hair did indeed match almost 90% of the time.

        I don't see the 90% match through DNA testing in the article. Case to explain where it came from?

      • Re-reading the article, I think that I know where you got the 90% number from, but I think that you are wrong.

        Firstly, as you note in another post, it's 89%, not 90% (bias showing here?)

        However, more importantly, it's 89% of all the "positive" results, not 89% of those used at trial. In the 11% where there was a false match, the likelyhood of actual guilt is lower, so the amount of other evidence would be much lower, thus it is very reasonable to assume that the 11% of false matches are over-represented in

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )

          t's 89%, not 90% (bias showing here?

          I said "almost 90%", I believe 89% fits that description. But if you prefer yes - 89% of the time the hair match was supported by a DNA match.

          it is very reasonable to assume that the 11% of false matches are over-represented in the 268 cases

          Pure speculation on your part, there's nothing to support that assumption.

          • it is very reasonable to assume that the 11% of false matches are over-represented in the 268 cases

            Pure speculation on your part, there's nothing to support that assumption.

            And your claim that the 11% false positives (of all analysis) applies to the subset cases where hair analysis evidence was used at trial? Where's your evidence to support that claim? It's no more than speculation.

            You have no more evidence than I do, but at least I have a rational explanation why it's likely to be greater than 11%.

            • by tomhath ( 637240 )
              The study indicates that 11% of the positives are false. There is nothing indicate that the rate would be any different among samples that were used in court.
              • There is nothing indicate that the rate would be any different among samples that were used in court.

                When hair "evidence" was used in a little over 10% of the times that it was available, it's reasonable to think that a lot of selection is going on.. It's reasonable to assume that those cases where the hair evidence was used were not typical. It's very reasonable to assume that the reason the hair evidence was used was lack of alternative evidence. It's not reasonable to make the assumption that the perce

                • by tomhath ( 637240 )

                  It's not reasonable to make the assumption that the percentages would be similar when the number of cases when hair evidence was used in court is such a small proportion of the overall percentage.

                  You are mixing two unrelated things:

                  1) A lack of other compelling evidence might increase the likelihood of using hair evidence. Yes, that's reasonable. There is nothing to support the assumption, but it's reasonable.

                  2) An assumption that the false positive rate on those cases is different than the false positive rate overall. No, there is no reason to assume the false positive rate is different in those cases.

                  I understand what you are trying to connect - a hair match might be used when other evidence is we

                  • by tomhath ( 637240 )
                    grrr, proofreading error...false positive rate was 11%
                  • All we know from the study is that the false positive rate was about 89%

                    Exactly. We don't know the false positive rate in the cases where the evidence was used. You can't claim that my speculation is not valid, yet yours is valid.

                    This isn't a case of a random subset of a larger population. In every case, there was a decision made whether or not to use the hair evidence. That decision was based on the evidence available. Thus, you can't assume that you have a random subset of the larger population. Th

  • Easy to fix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @02:22AM (#49503513)

    Fixing this is simple. Just make misprosecution punishable on parity with the charges being prosecuted.

    Willfully hide exculpatory evidence in a capital murder trial? Death penalty.

    Lie about evidence in a life imprisonment case? Life in prison.

    Etc.

    For that matter, this works on false rape charges too, but there you need more filtering. Honest false charges (disagreements, mistakes, etc) should be safe, so much so that no victim should even remotely fear coming forward. And amusingly, the prosecutor thing would guard against abuse of that too...

    • Why on parity?

      In their capacity as (ostensibly) trustworthy, neutral, expert testimony, they both victimize the defendant and betray the public's trust in the criminal justice system and the duties of their office.

      Punishment-on-parity seems like the absolute bare minimum, with no acknowledgement of the aggravating circumstances of abuse of authority, the corrosive effects on rule of law and public trust in the existence of rule of law, and so on. I am sympathetic to arguments that mounting their heads
    • I disagree; knowing that bad evidence was presented (particularly in life imprisonment and death penalty cases where there is no chance to make amends with those falsely convicted) shows more evidence of why the death penalty was never a good idea. Therefore we don't need more death penalty conclusions such as "Willfully hide exculpatory evidence in a capital murder trial? Death penalty.".

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      First, this doesn't appear to be perjury (which is a felony).

      Second, some penal codes (e.g. California) do consider perjury at a capital trial to be a capital offense.

    • If what you say were remotely possible, many of these problems would not exist.

      'Fixing this is simple" almost always translates to "Here's my oversimplified misunderstanding"

    • Son, we could end obesity if people would just eat less. The system is not corrupt. That would imply it was something else originally. The system is itself an originator of corruption.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @02:25AM (#49503517) Journal
    Is there any reason, aside from the reflexive deference to allegedly legitimate authority figures, why they use the phrases 'gave flawed testimony' and 'overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors' rather than the more honest 'committed a fuckton of perjury'?
    • It's the difference between deliberate lying and passing on a fact that proves to be inaccurate. To the extent that these guys were reflecting the general consensus of their profession, then their comments aren't lying. To the extent that they had their own doubts which they failed to express to juries, they are guilty of perjury. But never underestimate the power of groupthink. The experimental demonstrations of the way in which people succumb to social pressure to say what is not true, when those they are
    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

      It's not perjury if you really believe it to be true. Merely being wrong is not enough. Being shown to be wrong may discredit a witness, but it does not in and of itself demonstrate perjury. Perjury requires intent.

      If you were told that a match to a certain level of confidence is sufficient to make a case, and you testify that your samples matched to that level (because it turns out that's a very low bar), how is that perjury? Even if your initial assumption is wrong, you are reporting what you believe to b

      • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @04:45AM (#49503755) Journal

        The perjury, if there is any, is in the expert witnesses claims about the strength of the evidence.

        From TFA:

        The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

        "misleading" == perjury.

        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          Again, misleading does not necessarily mean they knew it to be untrue. They could have bought into the propaganda themselves.

          Agent Smith sets up misleading guidelines setting a particularly low bar for matches on fingerprints, knowing what he's doing could net the wrong people. Agent Jones follows those guidelines and testifies on the assumption that they are sound. Both the court and Agent Jones have been misled, and Jones is not guilty of perjury. Smith did not testify, thus is not guilty of perjury eithe

  • One of the frustrations we slashdotters often suffer is the ordinary person who disbelieves a scientific finding; climate change and anti-vaccers are the most visible at present. Yet it is stories like this that give people every justification for their scepticism; we need to be willing to hear their attitude and its reasons!
    • by jeti ( 105266 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @03:25AM (#49503619) Homepage
      Forensic analysis methods are not scientifically validated in general. AFAIK any forensic evidence is admissible if the the judge decides so. The general standard is that is sounds plausible.
      • Forensic analysis methods are not scientifically validated in general. AFAIK any forensic evidence is admissible if the the judge decides so. The general standard is that is sounds plausible.

        No. The general standard is the Daubert standard (so named because it arose in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The standard is:
        Judge is gatekeeper: Under Rule 702, the task of "gatekeeping", or assuring that scientific expert testimony truly proceeds from "scientific knowledge", rests on the trial judge.
        Relevance and reliability: This requires the trial judge to ensure that the expert's testimony is "relevant to the tas

    • Science itself does not have a bias, but scientists have bias' and they have vested interests. Who is going to bite the hand that feeds it? It does not mean it is a conscious bias, but as humans we all have bias as such the "expected" result has to be hidden in some sort of double-blind methodology.... For hair -- give them the prime sample and then 10 or 20 samples that have a mix of similar DNA origins (i.e. if it is asian hair - 20 samples of asian hair mixed in with the suspect sample to match to).
    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      AGW and antivaxxers fly in the face of established science. With hair forensics there was no established science, just an echo chamber of 'experts' under pressures to prove guilt. This is just FBI cases. What about state and other cases based on the same science? What of other "scientific" forensic processes then and now that a jury can't possibly understand. All a jury knows is that a congenial, nicely dressed, "expert" with superior "credentials, certifications, education, and achievements" states th
      • That's the problem we have. Given how much of 'accepted science' gets challenged and reworked, we are always faced with a spectrum from the very secure to the totally crackpot. After all, Einstein successfully torpedoed Newton's laws of motion, which were as widely accepted as you get. Somehow we need to have a process for determining whether a scientific claim is sufficient to justify its use for criminal trials. On a good day the court process will do that; on a bad day a poor quality lawyer will be unwil
  • Since "scientific evidence" is very persuasive to jurors, they'll be granting new trials to the ones they haven't killed yet.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAI crack me up!

  • by Computershack ( 1143409 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:19AM (#49503951)
    And this, people, is why you don't have the death sentence.
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      In a way, yes. The practical argument against capital punishment (as opposed to the ethical argument) is that the standard of evidence suitable for such a severe punishment results in capital punishment being more expensive than life imprisonment.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      You are assuming that they care. But what they're probably regretting is that they haven't killed all to ones convicted on fraudulent evidence.

      O, wait, you said "people". You didn't mean officials.

      N.B.: The laws are made and enforced by organizations composed of people who hold power. They *like* holding power. And they are quite willing to kill innocent people to keep it. Some of them would cavail at mass murder.

    • by jcr ( 53032 ) <[moc.cam] [ta] [rcj]> on Sunday April 19, 2015 @08:19AM (#49504259) Journal

      I'm in favor of the death penalty in principle, but I really can't trust the government to only kill people who have it coming. That being the case, I would reserve it for politicians only.

      -jcr

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      I'm not against the death penalty; I'm against making irreparable mistakes.

      There's a way to prevent gung-ho justice: if judgment is later found to be in error, visit the same penalty on those who condemned. Tho I vaguely recall this principle comes from Sharia law, and if so it doesn't seem to limit behavior much in Real Life.

  • American "Justice" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:26AM (#49503977)
    Better 100,000 wrongly accused people go to jail rather then one member of law enforcement admit they made a mistake,
    • This is not a mistake.

      This is presuming that the arresting officers or investigators must have done their job right, so we should support their side of the story.

      The same, effectively, as telling a jury that the defendant must be guilty because why would an innocent man be arrested and in court?
      It's not justice, but so far beyond just covering up mistakes.

      • Hot off the press, an article published today [slate.com] about how the "justice" system can put an innocent person in jail for life.

        Virginia is still imprisoning an almost certainly innocent man—even after he did the time.

        Of all the maddening stories of wrongful convictions, Michael McAlister’s may be one of the worst. For starters, he has been in prison for 29 years for an attempted rape he almost certainly did not commit. For much of that time, the lead prosecutor who secured his conviction, the origin

  • If you've done nothing wrong you don't have anything to worry about, right?
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      "Show me the man, and I'll show you the crime."
      - Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin's secret police

  • FTFA:

    In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time.

    As I read the article, the examiners were right 89% of the time and reported a match when there wasn't one 11% of the time. While that is certainly a problem, it's probably at least as accurate as all the other evidence presented at a trial. The best evidence is usually DNA, but people often don't even believe that (e.g. O.J.)

    • That was a supplemental fact from 2002 in a story about stuff encompassing decades. You are missing a lot of information. Did you stop reading at that point?

  • Experts inherently favor the interests of those who pay them. The FBI doesn't get paid to find people innocent. In a world where the FBI can choose to hire this expert or that expert, it will rehire the ones most likely to make a finding helpful to a finding of guilty.

    Courts are masters of deciding truth between opposing parties. Where one side possesses more resources than the other (the U.S. Attorney General's Office vs. the local public defender) the criminal court is crippled to find the truth of guilt

  • Means that there are two people in the world who match the DNA evidence. If the DNA evidence is the only evidence, then the chances that you've got the right person is 50/50.

    DNA evidence alone should never convict, only exonerate.

Moneyliness is next to Godliness. -- Andries van Dam

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