The American public has become increasingly fascinated with criminal science and forensic evidence analysis over the past decade or so. A staggering number of popular television programs and bestselling books focus on the impact that these processes have on both the prosecution of accused persons and the criminal defense strategies of those who have been accused.
As interesting and captivating as these processes can be in a fictional context, accurate analysis of forensic evidence is anything but entertaining in real life. Proper collection, handling and analysis of forensic evidence can lead to justified acquittals and proper convictions. Mishandling, improper collection and errors in forensic evidence analysis can lead to wrongful convictions and other devastating, unjust consequences.
Recently, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated a review of closed criminal cases in order to achieve a variety of objectives. Many in the criminal justice community are anxiously awaiting a final report on the effort, which is scheduled to be released later this summer. In all, more than 21,000 FBI Laboratory files are being examined. Preliminary results indicate that at least 120 wrongful convictions may have occurred as a result of exaggerated scientific testimony. Among the 120 potentially wrongful convictions identified so far, 27 are death row cases.
The Justice Department and FBI review of closed cases will hopefully shed light on the ways in which our criminal justice system is serving the public as well as the ways in which it is certainly not. The initial problematic cases identified by the review suggest that serious gaps in our system exist. Hopefully this analysis will lead to solutions so that no future wrongful convictions are ever again allowed to occur.
Source: The Washington Post, “U.S. reviewing 27 death penalty convictions for FBI forensic testimony errors,” Spence S. Hsu, July 17, 2013