A faulty forensic analysis has put hundreds of innocent people in jail over decades, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes. Eventually found to be unreliable, it was quietly dumped four decades later without alerting those convicted.
The "comparative bullet-lead analysis" claimed to link a bullet with ones in suspects' possession. However, faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples resulted in false matches.
The comparative bullet-lead analysis was based on the supposition that each batch of lead would have a particular, almost unique, chemical makeup. The National Academy of Sciences, however, has invalidated this claim in 2004, pointing out that FBI experts who claimed to jurors the test linked a particular bullet to those found in a suspect's gun or cartridge box were more or less misleading the jury.
Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post:
But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau's managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show.The reporters have since alerted the FBI on at least 250 cases that may require closer examination. John Miller, FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs, noted that the FBI is taking a series of steps to try to fix this snafus on cases where the conviction might have resulted from the flawed analysis.
The question remains as to why it took a media investigation for the FBI to notice and take action.
Thinking ahead, what do you reckon are the chances of flawed computer forensics resulting in a hapless computer idiot being charged for computer crimes that they did not commit.
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.