Government to Review More than 2000 Cases Involving Microscopic Hair Analysis
The Innocence Project and the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers have entered into an historic agreement with the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review more than 2,000 criminal cases in which the FBI may have provided scientifically invalid testimony or reports regarding microscopic hair analysis. The unprecedented federal review of past cases has already identified 27 death penalty convictions in which FBI forensic experts may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated scientific testimony.
At issue is a once-widespread practice by which some FBI experts exaggerated the significance of “matches” drawn from microscopic analysis of hair found at crime scenes. Before DNA testing was used in criminal trials, some experts relied on microscopic hair comparison analysis to link a defendant to a crime. In 2009, the forensic discipline was deemed highly unreliable by the National Academy of Science.
Because of the possibility of wrongful convictions, the DOJ has agreed, for the first time in its history, not to raise procedural objections, such as statute of limitations and procedural default claims, in response to the petitions of criminal defendants seeking to have their convictions overturned because of faulty FBI microscopic hair comparison laboratory reports and/or testimony. Read more.
Fight Continues for Joseph Buffey’s Freedom
Over the course of a three-day hearing in West Virginia’s Harrison County Circuit Court earlier this month, Innocence Project attorneys continued the fight to overturn Joseph Buffey’s conviction of a 2001 rape and robbery that DNA testing proves he didn’t commit. In spite of statements by the victim that the crimes were committed by a sole perpetrator and a DNA match to another person with a record of committing similar crimes, prosecutors continue to block Buffey’s exoneration, putting forth the outlandish theory that he could have been an unseen, unheard “accomplice.”
In 2001, Buffey, then 19, pled guilty to the rape and robbery of an 83-year-old woman based on the advice of his lawyer who told him he risked a longer prison sentence if he went to trial and was convicted. The victim clearly reported that only one man committed the crimes, and she was unable to pick Buffey from a photo lineup even after his confession.
DNA testing conducted in May 2011 excluded Buffey, and after months of resistance from the prosecution, the profile was finally run through the federal DNA database. A match was made to Adam Bowers, a man with multiple felony convictions, including breaking into a residence and robbing and assaulting a woman. Although Bowers has been charged with the crime, prosecutors continue to block efforts to free Buffey. Read more.
New York State to Spend $1M to Expand Video Interrogations
The New York Division of Criminal Justice Services is making $1 million available to help police agencies across the state expand and improve the use of video equipment for recording interrogations. The funds will allow for the purchase and installation of video recording equipment for police departments and sheriffs’ offices and make upgrades to older equipment possible.
The electronic recording of interrogations is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions. According to New York criminal justice officials, 345 agencies in 58 of the state’s 62 counties currently videotape at least some interrogations. For law enforcement agencies, recording interrogations can prevent disputes about how a suspect was treated, create a clear record of a suspect’s statements and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. Recording interrogations can also deter officers from using illegal tactics to secure a confession.
A law that would have mandated recording custodial interrogations in every police department statewide failed this session despite the support of Governor Cuomo. New York State has been slow to pass this and other criminal justice reforms that would help prevent wrongful convictions. Twelve people have been exonerated through DNA testing in the state after a false confession led to their wrongful conviction.
Why I Give
Executive Director, the Tinicum Conservancy
In elementary school, I took a social studies class where we were taught that our judicial system would rather release a guilty individual before they convicted one innocent person. I never, ever forgot that lesson.
I first learned about the Innocence Project’s work through an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and it just resonated with me. I find the science behind the DNA testing that the Innocence Project does to be incredibly compelling. People can hold whatever philosophies they wish about the ways in which people are judged, but DNA testing is pretty concrete evidence of someone’s guilt or innocence. The incredible track record that the Innocence Project has is inspiring.
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