Did Faulty FBI Forensic Test Convict Hundreds of Innocent People?

An FBI forensic test considered so faulty that the FBI no longer uses it may have caused juries to wrongfully convict hundreds of innocent people who are now serving prison time for crimes they did not commit.

The forensic test uses a science called bullet-lead analysis, which links bullets used to commit a crime to bullets belonging to the suspect. The theory is based on the premise that a batch of lead will always have a one-of-a-kind chemical makeup.

In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences determined that there were inconsistencies in the bullet manufacturing process that proved the science “unreliable and potentially misleading.” Decades worth of FBI testimony to jurors could well have been “misleading under federal rules of evidence.” There is therefore a good chance that faulty test results administered as evidence could have led to wrongful convictions.

The FBI stopped using this particular forensic test in 2005. The government, however, has held back from releasing the list of some 2,500 cases in which the analysis was used. Many of these cases involve homicide convictions.

“60 Minutes” and the Washington Post have identified over 12 cases in which a court either reversed the conviction or must now investigate whether innocent people were sent to prison.

The FBI says it will start notifying prosecutors of the possibility that people were wrongfully convicted. The two-to-four timeframe for appealing the convictions, however, is nearing an end.

Wrongful Convictions
123 people in the United States have been released from death row since 1973 after their convictions were overturned.

The Innocence Project, which has helped overturn about 100 death sentences with post-conviction evidence, cites some reasons that innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.

In a study involving 70 cases where guilty verdicts were overturned, the Innocence Project found that:

• More than 30 of these convictions were because of prosecutorial misconduct.
• More than 30 of these wrongful convictions involved police misconduct.
• False witness testimony affected the outcome of 15 cases.

FBI’s Forensic Test Full of Holes, Washington Post.com, November 18, 2007
Innocence and the Death Penalty

The Latest Statistics from the Innocence Project, Caught.net

Related Web Resources:

Innocence Project

Wrongful Murder Convictions in Massachusetts

Federal Bureau of Investigation

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