20 Years of Compromised Expert Testimony in Hair Follicle Tests

Here is yet another story detailing widespread and systemic problems with scientific evidence during trials leading to convictions, incarceration, and, in some cases, death.

This time, it’s about FBI hair follicle tests. Before the year 2000, forensic examiners gave testimony slanted toward the government in many trials. According to an article in the Washington Post, 26 of 28 experts in the FBI’s forensic hair analysis unit testified unsoundly. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project found errors in 95% of cases where hair follicle tests were presented to juries. To date, 268 trials have been dusted off and given a second look, including both federal and state trials.

32 People Sentenced to Death and 14 Have Died

32 people were sentenced to death in cases with inaccurate testimony. 14 of those have either already been executed, or died in prison awaiting their execution. These results were released after 200 convictions were reviewed. There is a generally lot of evidence put on during serious felony trials. This includes evidence aside from the hair follicle testimony. So not all of these people were convicted solelyon this sort of expert testimony.

Yet four of those convicted have had already had their convictions overturned, including Kirk Odom. Kirk’s exoneration, according to the Innocence project, spurred on this project. Others whose convictions depended on hair follicle analysis are being made aware of the findings to see if there exists appealable issues in their own cases.

This have been controversy with scientific evidence in criminal trials in Texas and throughout the rest of the country. The accuracy and the methods of scientific evidence has been questioned in scandals. See DNA evidence, drug convictions.