Category Archives: Junk science

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently awarded the William O. Douglas Award to UW law professor Jackie McMurtrie for her nearly 20 years of work toward bringing justice to wrongly convicted individuals with the Innocence Project Northwest.
  • In more Jackie McMurtrie news, an editorial in this week’s Seattle Times praised the efforts made by attorneys and law students at the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic at the University of Washington School Of Law in their pursuit to overturn a King County man’s wrongful conviction.  Way to go Jackie!
  • California Innocence Project exoneree Brian Banks, and NFL player, signed a movie deal to tell his story
  • Bad ballistics evidence may have caused a Quebec judge to be wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife
  • Scrapping the corroboration requirement in Scotland could cause more wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff settles wrongful conviction suit for $3.4 million.
  • Illinois exoneree Alan Beamon has wrongful conviction lawsuit dismissed

Satanic ritual abuse panic seems to be unraveling

Child-abuse hysteria has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of wrongful convictions over the past 30 years. One of the most virulent strains of this hysteria was the one that started it: Satanic ritual abuse. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie offers a hopeful update here that suggests that the last vestiges of this panic are unraveling. But immense damage was done, and if the lessons left behind aren’t learned, there will be more panics and more innocent people sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit or that didn’t even occur.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The 2013 holiday season meant a great deal to Brandon Olebar, who, after 10 years of wrongful incarceration, got to enjoy the festivities with his family for the first time in over a decade. Olebar’s release comes thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW).  More….
  • In NY, Robert Jones, who has been imprisoned for 19 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit, hopes to be released after State’s key witness says she was pressured to identify him as the perp.
  • In Massachusetts, doctors believe Brian Peixoto was wrongfully convicted of child murder in an alleged junk medical science case.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…


Are There Geographic “Hotspots” for Shaking Babies? Shaken Baby Syndrome.

The Medill Justice Project, in its now year-long effort to build a database of SBS cases, has published a portion of that data relating to the geographic occurrence of SBS.  The report identifies several SBS geographic “hotspots.”

Medill Map

What could cause this?  As Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck has jokingly suggested, maybe it’s “in the water.”  But this data does NOT support a theory that certain localities have higher percentages of more violent people who are more likely to shake their babies.  It DOES, however, support a theory that certain localities have higher concentrations of aggressive and dogmatic prosecutors and child abuse pediatricians* who ARE more likely to (wrongfully) accuse and prosecute someone for shaking their baby.  And given this, it raises serious questions with respect to the concept of “equal justice.”  What I mean by this is – if your baby experiences a short fall, and you take it to the hospital, and the baby presents with any or all of the triad symptoms, you are much more likely to go to prison if you live in Summit County, Ohio than if you live in Kane County, Illinois – even though you did NOT shake your baby.

You can read the Medill report here.

Sue Luttner has posted an article looking at this geography lesson on her blog OnSBS.  She has done a little more research on how rate of occurrence relates to geography.  You can read it here.

* (More about child abuse pediatricians in a future post.)

Exciting Case Successes Last Week in Netherlands and UK…

Last week, two innocence organizations in Europe got good news on several cases they have been working on for many months/years.

In the Netherlands, the Knoops Innocence Project obtained the exonerations Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas in the Dutch Antilles.  The Project was able to prove through expert analysis that Thomas was working behind his computer downloading music at the time of the murder, and that Melaan was on the other side of the island (proved via phone records).  The Court also accepted that Thomas’ confession was a false confession.  The two men served eight and five years in prison respectively.   More details here.

In the UK, the Cardiff Innocence Project has had a case referred back to the Court of Appeals by the CCRC.  The defendant is Dwaine George, and his murder conviction was based on faulty GSR testimony.  More details here.   Upon hearing the news, Dwaine said: ‘ I have said from day one that it wasn’t me.  I know there are still huge hurdles ahead, but I want to prove my innocence. I just want a chance to get justice, and I want to thank Cardiff’s innocence project students for the work they have done that will hopefully give me that opportunity.’

Congrats to the Knoops and Cardiff Innocence Projects, and more importantly, to Thomas, Meelan and George….

With Today’s Release of the San Antonio Four, Texas Now On the Cutting Edge of Efforts to Free the Innocent

From the Huffington Post:

Today in Texas, four wrongfully convicted women–known as the “San Antonio Four”–had their convictions overturned and were freed. This came about thanks to the latest in a line of innovations Texas lawmakers and the Innocence Project of Texas have devised to help the wrongfully convicted. Often thought of as a rough-and-tumble, “Hang ‘Em High” state–and still leading the nation in capital punishment–Texas is surprisingly now a trendsetter for innocence reforms.

The four women exonerated today–Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhough, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera–were caught up in the infamous line of ritualistic child sex abuse hysteria cases of the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these cases involved allegations against day care workers, and many experts now believe that most of the convicted were innocent victims of the witch-hunt mentality prevalent in that era…………

Read entire article here….

New Evidence Found in 1966 Hakamada Case

My previous post on Hakamada Case here. This is a case from 1966. Hakamada claims his innocence from Tokyo Detention Center, where he is held on death row. He has been held in confinement for over 45 years.

From the Mainichi:

New evidence emerges in 1966 murder case: lawyers

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) — New evidence has emerged in a 1966 murder case that suggests the man who has been convicted and is on death row for the crime may have been wrongfully accused, his defense lawyers said Sunday.

The new evidence in favor of Iwao Hakamada, 77, may provide stronger grounds in their appeal for a retrial, the result of which will be decided by the Shizuoka District Court next spring at the earliest.

The lawyers said the new evidence came to light in the witness statements of two colleagues of Hakamada who were staying at the same company dormitory at the time of the crime in June 1966. Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • In New Jersey, DNA test results exonerate Gerard Richardson in bite mark murder case
  • Colorado begins compensation payments to exoneree Robert Dewey
  • Illinois exoneree Carl Chatman briefly jailed when police mistakenly believe he was unregistered sex offender

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…


Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Washington state exonerees Alan Northrop and Larry Davis settle their federal wrongful conviction lawsuit for $10.5 million
  • The city of Peekskill has approved a $5.4 million settlement with a man who spent 16 years in prison for a killing he didn’t commit.  The Journal News ( ) says the Peekskill Common Council approved the settlement with Jeffrey Deskovic (DEH’-skoh-vihch) on Tuesday night.  Deskovic was 16 when he was charged with the November 1989 killing of a 15-year-old Peekskill High School classmate.  He was freed from prison in 2006 after DNA linked the killing to another man.  Deskovic previously received $8.3 million from New York state and Westchester County. He used some of the money to start the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help other innocent people get out of prison.  In May, he received a master’s degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
  • Another Texas arson case getting scrutiny

Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?

From the NYTimes:

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Mr. Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system.

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions.

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Mr. Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case.

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Mr. Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters.

The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Mr. Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Mr. Willingham.

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Mr. Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Mr. Willingham’s guilt.

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Mr. Willingham started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters. Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed.

Now, Mr. Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Mr. Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation.

During the trial, Mr. Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison.

In a 1996 letter, Mr. Jackson told prison officials Mr. Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery.

But in legal documents signed by Mr. Webb in 1992, he admitted robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge.

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Mr. Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case.

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Mr. Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie.

That motion, Mr. Scheck said, was not seen by Mr. Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Mr. Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death.

An investigation is needed, Mr. Scheck said, to improve the judicial process.

Mr. Jackson said he made no promises to Mr. Webb. He also said Mr. Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Mr. Willingham.

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Mr. Jackson said.

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Mr. Willingham, but Mr. Perry has argued that he was guilty.

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said.

Mr. Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.”


PA Innocence Project Launches Forensic Science Academy for Lawyers

From the Pennsylvania Innocence Project Blog:

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences produced an exhaustive study of the state of forensic science in the United States. The report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, was a rude awakening for the entire criminal justice system as to the state of forensic science in our country, and particularly took lawyers to task for not understanding forensic science at all. In response, the Pa. Innocence Project sought to provide that education for Pennsylvania prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Collaborating with Arcadia University and the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education, we developed a 16-hour course to cover topics including death investigations, DNA, fingerprints, chemistry, and arson and explosives. Leading practitioners and scientists are conducting the courses, and lawyers are getting hands-on experience with the techniques to better understand their applications and limitations.

In the early evening of September 12, 30 prosecutors and public defenders gathered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania for the first lecture.Dr. Barry Logan, the Executive Director of the Center, covered the first topic on Death Investigations and Forensic Toxicology. The course will go through October 31, meeting each Thursday evening to cover a different area of forensic science.

It is the goal of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to provide educational opportunities for all members of the criminal justice system to ensure the fair administration of justice.


A Victory for the “Flat Earth Society”


NEW YORK (AP) — Bite mark evidence that may connect a murder suspect to the victim will be allowed at his trial, a judge decided Thursday, disappointing those who hoped the case would help get the forensic technique banished from the nation’s courtrooms.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley’s decision follows lengthy testimony last year that went to the heart of the reliability of bite mark analysis, which involves comparing bite marks left on the flesh of victims with the teeth of suspects.

At least 24 men convicted or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks found on victims have been exonerated in the U.S. since 2000, according to a June report by The Associated Press based on decades of court records, archives, news reports and filings by the Innocence Project, which helps wrongfully convicted inmates win freedom through DNA testing.

Many of those who were exonerated spent more than a decade in prison, including time on death row.

The AP analysis is the most comprehensive count to date of those exonerated after being convicted or charged based partially or entirely on bite mark evidence.

In Thursday’s case, Wiley said he would explain the reasoning behind his ruling in a written decision, but he did not say when that would be.

He did say that his basic finding was that “the field of bite mark analysis comports with the standards of evidence under New York law.” He added: “It’s obviously a field that has not been looked at closely by the courts in a long time.”

Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation at the Innocence Project, was at Thursday’s hearing and said Wiley’s decision was “contrary to the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.”

“It’s a victory for the Flat Earth Society,” he said.

The Innocence Project and other defense attorneys slam bite mark analysis as sham science and argue that it should no longer be allowed in courtrooms.

Many forensic dentists defend the practice as useful, especially when trying to eliminate suspects, and say it has helped convict murderers and rapists, most famously serial killer Ted Bundy.

The New York case involves the murder of 33-year-old Kristine Yitref, whose beaten and strangled body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bed in a hotel near Times Square in 2007.

A forensic dentist concluded that a mark on her body matched the teeth of Clarence Brian Dean, a 41-year-old fugitive sex offender from Alabama.

Dean told police he killed Yitref in self-defense, saying she and another man attacked him in a robbery attempt after he agreed to pay her for sex; no other man was found.

Dean is awaiting trial on a murder charge. His attorney declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.

Prosecutors wanted the bite mark evidence allowed at his trial to help convince jurors of Dean’s guilt. His defense attorneys wanted it barred because of past mistakes involving the practice and how powerful bite mark evidence can be to jurors, even with opposing testimony.

Dr. David Senn, a San Antonio forensic dentist, testified in last year’s hearings that bite mark analysis is valid when used in a closed population of suspects and that problems of the past can be blamed on individual dentists, not the science itself.

“The issue is not that bite mark analysis is invalid, but that bite mark examiners are not properly vetted,” he said.

He added that he couldn’t imagine a case today in which he would identify a biter unless “there was other very strong corroborating evidence.”

Testifying for defense attorneys at the hearings was Dr. Mary Bush, a researcher at the University of Buffalowho has used computer models to study bite marks made on dead bodies using pliers and dental models. Her research, which has been published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, found that human dentition is not unique and cannot be accurately transferred to skin.

Bush acknowledges that a significant limitation of her research includes the fact that she’s using dead bodies that have been frozen and thawed and using machinery to create bite marks, a method that is far from re-creating a real-life bite made on a live person during an act of violence.

Bush testified that she did not feel that bite marks should be admissible in courtrooms but that more research in the field is needed.


NSF to Support Forensics Research

The NAS Report (see here, here, and here) is ever so slowly starting to have an impact.

From the journal Nature, Aug.28, 2013.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking proposals for basic research in forensic science, in an effort to improve rigor and standards. The move is partly a result of a 2009 US National Research Council report that called for the NSF to support forensics research, and for scientists and medical officers in the field to be certified, says Mark Weiss, division director for behavioral and cognitive science at the NSF in Arlington, Virginia. “If you’ve got an idea, we want to hear about it,” says Weiss, who adds that forensics research is considered a national and legislative priority. He encourages interested researchers to contact program directors in any relevant NSF directorate.

Top Chinese Forensic Scientist Quits in Protest Over Miscarriages of Justice

Following hot on the heels of previous posts about the rising awareness of wrongful convictions in China (see here… and here…. and here…), one of the leading forensic scientists in the country has now resigned in protest at the mishandling of evidence in criminal cases and a series of miscarriages of justice:


Wang Xuemei, the vice-president of the government-administered Chinese Forensic Medicine Association, said she could no longer be involved with an organisation that routinely serves up “ridiculous and false expert conclusions”

Defence solicitors have commented that the judiciary in China remain under the control of the Communist Party, and cannot be independent. Such comments, and a high profile resignation, should serve as clarion calls for reformers in China to work to bring about urgent reforms, and those in the international innocence movement must continue reaching out to our Chinese colleagues, to ensure that exonerations can be secured. Read more here…

Top Chinese forensic scientist quits over mishandled cases

Neil Heywood case: forensic scientist who raised doubts over conviction quits

Ahead of Bo Xilai trial, a top China forensic scientist quits

Death Investigation in the US – Medical Examiner or Coroner?

autopsy table

It’s common, in cases which involve a death, for the determination, by autopsy, of manner and cause of that death to result in criminal charges being filed against a suspect.  And in many cases, the results of that autopsy will be the evidence that convicts or acquits that suspect.  Unfortunately, it’s all too common for the results of an autopsy to be unreliable or downright wrong.

A wrong result from an autopsy?  How can this happen?  Accurate determination of manner and cause of death by autopsy requires a medical examiner, or coroner, with a high level of competency and with special training.  Sadly, there are both coroners and forensic pathologists practicing in this country who are unfit for the job.  To understand how this can be, it’s important to understand the distinction between a “medical examiner” and a “coroner.”  Medical examiners are appointed, or hired, by the responsible governmental body, and are uniformly qualified as forensic pathologists.  Coroners are politically elected, and in some states, are not even required to be a doctor.  In fact, South Carolina only recently required that a coroner be a high school graduate.  Coroners who have no medical credentials what so ever will commonly hire or contract forensic pathologists to perform the actual autopsies, but the competence and credentials of those pathologists may be of little concern to the hiring coroner, and the most important determining factor controlling those hiring decisions will be the budget.  There is also evidence to suggest that because the coroner is an elected political position, that those officials may unduly favor law enforcement in the decisions that they make.

The problems with the coroner system have been egregious enough that the National Academy of Sciences, in it’s landmark 2009 report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, A Path Forward,” recommended that the coroner system be abolished.

In February, 2011, PBS aired an hour long investigation into the coroner system in the US titled ‘Post Mortem.’  I personally found this to be illuminating, eye-opening, infuriating, and riveting.  You can watch the video, PBS Frontline, “Post Mortem” here.

Forensic Science in the UK: “A Threat to Justice”

UnknownThe state of the forensic science ‘market’ in the UK has been the subject of much debate (see here…  ) March 2012 saw the closure of the main provider of forensic services, the Forensic Science Service, by order of the government. It was deemed that with the service ‘losing’ (note ‘losing’ rather than ‘costing’) 2million pounds a year, it could no longer be sustained. Instead, forensic provision is now provided by private companies, individual consultants, or the police themselves. Now, the highly respected Science and Technology Select Committee of MPs has produced a report on the ‘fiasco’ of forensic science in the UK, roundly criticising the government move to close the FSS and warning of the dangers of miscarriages of justice. The provision of forensic science is now fragmented, dangerously unsupervised and the lack of research funding will only make matters worse in the years to come. The damning report contains no ‘news’ to those critics who predicted that the risks the government were taking with forensic science could end in disaster: the wrongful conviction of innocents as well as the diminishing ability to detect offenders.  The government report has been widely reported in the press:

UK forensic science slammed by inquiry

Forensics upheaval ‘threat to justice’, MPs warn

The full Forensic Science report can be found here… 

New Scholarship Spotlight: The Daubert Counterrevolution

Professor David Bernstein has posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The Abstract states:

This Article reviews the history of the evolution of the rules for the admissibility of expert testimony since the 1980s, the revolutionary nature of what ultimately emerged, and the consistent efforts by counter-revolutionary judges to stop or roll back the changes, even when the changes were codified into Federal Rule of Evidence 702.

Part I reviews the law of expert testimony through the Supreme Court’s Daubert decision. Critics had charged for decades that the adversarial system was a failure with regard to expert testimony.

Parties to litigation, they argued, often presented expert testimony of dubious validity because it supported their positions, while lay juries were incapable of discerning which side had the better case. However, it took the rise of toxic tort litigation based on questionable causation theories and the attendant threat to multi-billion dollar industries to provoke a meaningful response from the courts, a sudden and dramatic shift toward stricter admissibility standards.

Part II describes the Daubert trilogy and the emergence of amended Rule 702. A pattern emerged of the Supreme Court attempting to strengthen the rules governing expert testimony, some lower courts resisting, and the Court responding by issuing a new opinion clarifying the courts’ new “gatekeeping” responsibilities. Eventually, an amendment to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 codified the Daubert trilogy, and did so with language that removed ambiguities and loopholes exploited by judges who had been inclined to try to evade the Court’s rulings.

Nevertheless, as Part III describes, some federal judges have continued to apply significantly more lenient standards for expert testimony than Rule 702 allows. They do so by ignoring the language of Rule 702, and instead relying on precedents from a bygone era. The First Circuit’s Milward opinion, described in detail in Part III, demonstrates many errors and fallacies common to judges who have chosen to resist the Daubert revolution.

The underlying issue theme tying the history of, and present controversy over, the admissibility of evidence in toxic tort litigation is a dispute over the underlying rationale for having special rules for the admissibility of expert testimony. Judges that favor more liberal rules for admissibility believe that the rules are meant to address only the problem “junk science” – scientific testimony that not only falls outside the scientific mainstream, but does so in the face of well-accepted contrary evidence.

More restrictive judges, by contrast, are addressing the broader problem of “adversarial bias” that results from our legal system allowing the parties to choose their own experts. In short, parties to litigation have a natural inclination to choose experts whose views match their theory of the case, even if those experts are outliers or hired guns. Rule 702 tries to limit this problem by insisting that experts show an objectively verifiable basis for their testimony, so that the trier of fact is not in the position of relying on the mere ipse dixit of an expert chosen solely because his views are consistent with the partisan position of a party to litigation.

This Article concludes by discussing some of the factors that have led some federal judges to defy Rule 702. The author contends that the Supreme Court should take an appropriate opportunity to crack down on such judicial rebellion, for two reasons. First, Rule 702 is the law of the land, and federal judges are obligated to enforce it regardless of their personal views on what expert testimony should be admissible. Second, Rule 702 represents a constructive effort to confront the problem of adversarial bias while retaining the basic contours of broader adversarial process.


Scientists Applaud FBI’s Decision To Review Reliability Of Forensic Hair Analysis


The FBI announced last week it would reexamine thousands of once-closed cases in which a person was convicted — and in some cases put to death —  based on hair samples. Known as microscopic hair comparison analysis, this type of testing was often used to link a criminal defendant to a crime, but its reliability has now been called into question.

The FBI said that in more than 2,000 cases from 1985 to 2000, analysts may have exaggerated the significance of hair analyses or reported them inaccurately. All defendants affected by the inaccurate analyses will be notified and offered free DNA testing if errors in are found in the FBI’s lab work or testimony.

According to a report from The Washington Post, more than 120 convictions have been flagged as suspicious in the FBI’s review thus far. Of those cases, 27 defendants received the death penalty as their punishment.

In addition to reviewing individual cases, the FBI is also using the review process to improve lab training, testimony, audit systems and research.

“There is no reason to believe the FBI Laboratory employed ‘flawed’ forensic techniques,” Special Agent Ann Todd, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said. “The purpose of the review is to determine if FBI Laboratory examiner testimony and reports properly reflect the bounds of the underlying science.”

The review includes every case between 1985 and 2000 in which the FBI found a positive association between hair taken from defendants and hair found at a crime scene.

Those who pushed for the review included the national nonprofit Innocence Project, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers and its partners, which included pro bono attorneys.

Since DNA testing can cost several thousand dollars, hair analysis is often used to link a defendant to a crime scene. However, the practice was deemed “highly unreliable” in 2009 by a National Academy of Sciences report that concluded hair sample analyses cannot be linked to one person, but only categories of people.

Despite the poor reliability, Todd says microscopic hair analysis is “a valid forensic technique and one that is still conducted at the lab” along with DNA testing.

Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, applauded the FBI’s admission that there may be an issue with the validity of some of the findings in the cases.

“The government’s willingness to admit error and accept its duty to correct those errors in an extraordinarily large number of cases is truly unprecedented,” he said in a press release.

The review “signals a new era in this country that values science and recognizes that truth and justice should triumph over procedural obstacles,” Neufeld said. “Unfortunately hair analysis is only one of many flawed forensic practices that are still used that pose the threat of infecting criminal trials across the nation.”

“It is possible to conduct hair microscopy and find similarities among various samples. But it appears that in many cases the FBI analysts were overstating the significance of these similarities, often leaving juries with the false impression that a hair recovered from the crime scene must have come from the defendant and could not have come from anyone else,” he added. “The government is now acknowledging that this was wrong and that the science does not support such conclusions,”

Until all of the cases can be analyzed and verified for accuracy, officials from the Justice Department have waived the deadlines and procedural hurdles for those inmates who are currently on death row.

Steven D. Benjamin, a Virginia attorney and the president of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Justice Department’s decision to delay the execution of those defendants whose innocence is once again up for debate is a critical step in “giving wrongly convicted people a fair chance at a fair review.”

“We hope that the actions taken by the FBI and DOJ will serve as a model for state law enforcement and crime laboratories throughout the country to respect ethical obligations to reverse wrongful convictions when learning about improper evidence,” said Norman Reimer, executive director of the association.

Though groups like the Innocence Project don’t often find themselves endorsing the FBI’s efforts, the organization’s leaders have all publicly applauded the FBI for the review. They say it is an important first step in “bringing together the law enforcement and defense communities in pursuit of the shared objective of ensuring that only the guilty are convicted and that only scientifically valid forensic science is used in our criminal justice system.”