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Discredited hair evidence: How many innocent people are behind bars?

| Jun 17, 2017 | Wrongful Convictions

Any person who duly reflects upon DNA-related stories that have prominently surfaced in media reports in recent years understands well the double-edged sword wielded by investigators who assert possession of unassailable truth conferred through science.

Indeed, they are unquestionably right on some occasions. Conversely, though, and as evidenced by the release of wrongfully convicted individuals from state and federal lockups across the country (including in Wisconsin), DNA-linked assurances have often been tied to error and tragic consequences.

And here’s something: Before DNA testing became widely available (a recent Wisconsin Law Journal pegs that date at around 2000), other forms of offered evidence asserted to be unerringly accurate owing to scientific methodologies employed in their discovery were often found to be even more fundamentally riddled with mistakes.

We note that on a page of our website at the proven Milwaukee-area criminal law firm of Buting, Williams & Stilling, S.C., addressing the uses and challenges associated with DNA evidence. We point therein to “people accused of crimes [who] have spent years in prison despite their innocence.”

The above-cited journal article points specifically to the problematic nature of microscopic hair comparison that often featured in violent-crime cases before the advent of DNA analysis.

Here’s a central bottom line with that: the confident testimony of trial “experts” expounding on hair-analysis findings has likely sent high numbers of innocent defendants to prison over the years.

In fact, the publication spotlights a current effort in which approximately 3,000 cases involving hair or fiber analysis are being reexamined.

The need to do so, and to expand scrutiny in cases where individuals were convicted and incarcerated based largely on hair evidence, is flatly urgent, say commentators across the country.

Reportedly (and shockingly), error has been identified in more than 90% of cases that have been looked into thus far in the aforementioned review.

Botched hair-evidence findings spell “a national tragedy,” says a former whistleblower who spotlighted error some years back in FBI analyses that sent innocent people to prison.

“[W]e actually use this pseudo science against citizens of this nation,” he says.

So long as that is true, it is an obvious imperative for any individual accused of crime to secure the help of a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney who routinely works with and challenges DNA and other types of forensic evidence in advocating for best-case criminal outcomes.

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