FBI Lab Under Fire for Faulty Procedures

Don't miss the Evidence of Misjustice segment on 60 Minutes tonight. It will air the results of a joint investigation with the Washington Post on the use of the discredited comparative bullet lead analysis technique.

Hundreds of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is closing, a joint investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" has found.

Concerns developed over the technique in 1991. TalkLeft wrote about it in 2003 (here too.) In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences concluded the technique was bunk and the FBI stopped using it in 2005. But it has refused to release the list of the 2,500 cases in which the technique was used.

Dwight E. Adams, the now-retired FBI lab director who ended the technique, said the government has an obligation to release all the case files, to independently review the expert testimony and to alert courts to any errors that could have affected a conviction.

....The Post and "60 Minutes" identified at least 250 cases nationwide in which bullet-lead analysis was introduced, including more than a dozen in which courts have either reversed convictions or now face questions about whether innocent people were sent to prison.


As a result of the WaPo-60 Minutes investigation,

The FBI late last week said it would initiate corrective actions including a nationwide review of all bullet-lead testimonies and notification to prosecutors so that the courts and defendants can be alerted. The FBI lab also plans to create a system to monitor the accuracy of its scientific testimony.

Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project will serve on the review panel.

As part of its review, the FBI will release all bullet-lead case files involving convictions.

Bullet lead analysis is subjective and it is not science as juries had been told for decades.

Today, the FBI regards all such testimony as inaccurate. "The science does not and has never supported the testimony that one bullet can be identified as coming from a particular box of bullets," said Adams, the retired FBI lab director.

,,,,"It hadn't been based at all on science but, rather, had been based on subjective belief," [former FBI Analyst William]Tobin said in an interview. "Courts, and even practitioners, had been seduced by the sophistication of the analytical instrumentation for over three decades."

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    i fear this is a classic (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Sun Nov 18, 2007 at 11:39:18 AM EST
    case of seduction by assumed science. i've heard of this used as evidence, in a number of cases, even mentioned on a couple of recent csi episodes. it seems reasonable, on the surface: bullets made from the same batch would seem to have the same chemical characteristics.

    however, and this is the big however, i never heard reference made to any independent studies that supported this theory, as anything other than an interesting theory. i suspect everyone kind of assumed there had been, until someone came along and proved otherwise.

    unfortunately, at the moment at least, the linked story in the wp seems to be having some problems, so i wasn't able to read the entire thing.

    FBI should be prosecuted (none / 0) (#2)
    by NMvoiceofreason on Sun Nov 18, 2007 at 11:30:19 PM EST
    ...for obstruction of justice. They have evidence which could clear wrongly convicted (i.e. innocent) people, some of whom are on death row awaiting execution.

    Oh, wait. Some of them are from Texas and Florida, and the Bushes have already put them to death. Well, sorry, no live person, no live case.

    For four decades the pronouncements of the FBI were accepted as the truth by the people. You need to open an X-file, under the heading "Believe the Lie".