The FBI DNA Laboratory: A Review of Protocol and Practice Vulnerabilities

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The FBI Hair Analysis Scandal

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The ebook Paradigms of Combinatorial Optimization: Problems and New you solely was taught the means d. What can I be to find this? The known and questioned hairs were analyzed under two compound light microscopes in a process known as hair microscopy.

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The known and questioned hairs were placed on individual slides then viewed simultaneously under a magnification range of 40X to X. Three possible conclusions may be reached following microscopic analysis of known and questioned hairs:. The questioned hair exhibits the same microscopic characteristics as the hairs in the known hair sample and, accordingly, is consistent with originating from the source of the known hairs.

The questioned hair is microscopically dissimilar to the hairs found in the known hair sample and, accordingly, cannot be associated to the source of the known hairs. Similarities and slight differences were observed between the questioned hair and hairs in the known hair sample.


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Accordingly, no conclusion could be reached as to whether the questioned hair originated from the same source as the known hairs. Despite the wordiness of these conclusions, the article states little about the requirements to reach them. How does this differ from a finding of dissimilarity?

These questions remain unanswered. Curiously, the article also included the following passage:. The hair examination process involves many different steps, the first of which is to determine whether the hair in question originated from an animal or a human being. If the hair originated from an animal, it is possible to further identify it to a particular type of animal. Although certain hairs can be attributed to species, it is not possible to identify hairs to a specific animal to the exclusion of other similar animals.

An example of this occurs when dog hairs can be associated to a particular breed but cannot be identified to a specific dog within that breed. Despite this clear statement about the inability of this hair analysis technique to determine whether a particular dog hair belongs to a particular dog, the FBI relied on this technique to attribute particular human hairs to particular humans in criminal cases.

The FBI analysts continued to publish papers aimed at legitimizing microscopic hair comparison analysis in the criminal context. The article further details the structure of hair and the process of microscopic hair analysis, including specifying fifteen characteristics which should be considered in hair comparison. These characteristics are: race, body area, color, length, tip, root, diameter, cuticle, scales, pigment, medulla, cortex, artificial treatment, damage, and special characteristics. Still, this article is no clearer than the earlier one about how many of these characteristics must be consistent to determine a match.

With regard to trial testimony, the FBI authors advise:. Expert witness testimony should include an education component on hair evidence for the jury and judge and a statement of the results as reported. The witness should be prepared to discuss the procedures used in reaching the conclusion s and to defend opinions. An expert witness should endeavor to promote a better understanding of the methods of examination, the theory of the transfer of trace materials, and the strengths and limitations of the science.

Forensic Science in an Adversarial System

Clearly, in , the FBI advocated the use of this flawed science in criminal proceedings. The section also makes some interesting conclusions about the reliability of a hair comparison analysis:. Human hair identifications are subjective interpretations of objective criteria. The variability and distribution of the microscopic characteristics are useful in determining whether or not a questioned hair could have originated from a particular individual.

It is recognized that hair comparisons do not constitute a basis for absolute personal identification. Whereas hairs cannot be positively identified as originating from a particular individual, it is unusual to find different people having the same hair characteristics. This is based on evidentiary samples received in casework and on proficiency tests prepared in the laboratory. Despite the seemingly scientific rhetoric employed throughout the article, the absolute lack of any useful detail or data is striking.

How many matching criteria determine a legally significant match?


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The lack of any reliable empirical underpinnings to hair microscopy did not go unnoticed by the bench. Judge Shelton devoted a section of the article to hair evidence. Of hair microscopy, he states:. Although used by investigative agencies, including the FBI, the most that it can show is that a hair is consistent with having originated from a particular person but would also be consistent with many others.

And it is clear that substantial errors have occurred using microscopic hair analysis.

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Then, between and , three convictions in Washington D. Santae A. Tribble was convicted of killing a taxi driver in ; Kirk L. Odom was convicted of a sexual assault in ; and Donald E. Gates was convicted of the rape and murder of a Georgetown University student in It so happened that all three defendants had been convicted on FBI microscopic hair comparison evidence which was proven to be completely incorrect.

FBI Forensics Unit - Flaws in Hair Analysis Led To Convictions

Together these three innocent men spent nearly a century behind bars. As a result of this trio of flawed FBI hair evidence-based exonerations, the FBI conducted an internal review of cases involving hair microscopy. The findings were shocking. The Justice Department announced the review in July This time, defense attorneys would not be excluded from the process. The review process begins internally with the FBI. The FBI first identifies cases with a positive hair analysis association.