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For Decades, Feds (DOJ, FBI) Knew Forensic Evidence Was Unreliable But Said Nothing to Defense: How Many Innocents Behind Bars, How Many Have Been Wrongfully Executed?

This week, a Washington Post investigation is spreading like wildfire over the web and it’s getting lots of people talking.  People like Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, who was on television this week here in Dallas to answer some questions about what the Post has revealed (watch him on video here).

You can read the expose for yourself, entitled “Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept.” and written by Spenser S. Hsu online here.

What’s the big deal?

Seems the U.S. Department of Justice has known for a long, long time that FBI Lab forensics were not to be trusted, but DOJ higher-ups as well as U.S. Attorneys and federal prosecutors didn’t bother to let anyone know that forensic evidence wasn’t trustworthy — leaving who knows how many innocent people convicted and imprisoned in this country.

That’s right.  The federal government through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been handing out bad forensic evidence for years, and the federal government, through the Department of Justice, has seen fit to let that bad evidence be used to convict folk. Mum was the word, apparently, when dealing with this faulty forensic testing and trying criminal cases: no one bothered to let the defendants in on the forensic evidence having problems and for sure, no one told the defense attorneys.

What Hsu has reported is based upon a report by the Inspector General which summarizes findings of a 9 year investigation into misconduct by the FBI Crime Lab and complaints that the FBI Crime Lab was sending out flawed and faulty lab results.  The IG report was completed in 2004, and it was bad — but instead of letting everyone impacted by the findings know about it, the results were only shared among U.S. prosecutors.

The Washington Post is reporting that there are literally 100s of people setting in prison or living on parole right now, as this is being typed, that were wrongfully convicted in the first place because the FBI Crime Lab provided hair and fiber evidence that was just plain WRONG.

This has gone on for years and years and years.

Of course this means that innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of crimes all over the country.  And yes, some may have been executed for crimes they did not commit: according to Hsu’s investigation in the Post,  back in 1997 — a year into the DOJ’s investigation into bad forensics, so the problem was known already — the State of Texas may have executed Benjamin Herbert Boyle based upon evidence that was inaccurate.

Was There a Knowing, Wrongful Execution of Benjamin Herbert Boyle?

That’s right.  Mr. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the use of this flawed forensic evidence, the federal government already knew the forensics were questionable, and not one government employee stepped up to stop Boyle from being killed.  And, how do we know that this was known back then, in 1997?  It’s information found in a prosecutor’s memo.

Forensic Evidence Is Not 100% Trustworthy – Ask Any Criminal Defense Attorney

We’ve posted here already about how television shows aren’t reality – and lab results are not to be considered as iron-clad evidence of anything.  So, for the defense bar, the news that the lab results weren’t accurate is just one issue.  However, there’s another issue here, as well.  The continuing problem of prosecutorial misconduct – when attorneys for the government are aware that evidence exists that may support the defense, they are required to share that information with the defense team.  It’s a pursuit of justice that is mandated for them, not how many wins they can tally on their career scorecard.

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