Potentially thousands of criminal convictions are now in question after the FBI revealed that its forensic examiners overstated testimony about hair matches for decades. The question now becomes how courts and prosecutors will respond to the revelation and what will happen to those convicted on the basis of that forensic evidence.
In a joint statement Monday with the two outside legal groups assisting them, the Justice Department and the FBI acknowledged that 26 of 28 FBI examiners gave flawed testimony or reports in at least 90 percent of the 500 criminal cases reviewed so far, including in 96 percent of the 268 trials in which examiners gave evidence against defendants. The cases in question date to 1972.
One question is the impact of the overstated testimony. If the outcome of cases hinged on the problem testimony, the attorneys on both sides will determine how best to proceed. The FBI has offered new DNA testing, and the Justice Department will drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases. The problems are not linked exclusively to federal cases. FBI forensic analysts testified in numerous state cases before states developed their own hair and DNA analysis labs.
Already, in Massachusetts, attorneys for George Perrot are seeking a new trial. Mr. Perrot has been in prison for nearly 30 years after being convicted of raping a 78-year-old woman in Springfield in 1985. Perrot is among the first defendants notified of the FBI errors who have asked for new trials in the absence of DNA evidence.
There will almost assuredly be cases in New Jersey with similar facts. For more, please read the Washington Post.