The following post appeared earlier today on the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog.
Reasonable doubt: N.C. says 900 convictions based on bad evidence
By Kristin Collins
This week, buried in a Charlotte Observer editorial, was a surprising admission: The N.C. Commission on Actual Innocence is reexamining 900 convictions in which the State Bureau of Investigation may have used unreliable forensic evidence.
In all these cases, the SBI used hair analysis to prove the defendant’s guilt. In most cases, that means analysts used a microscope to compare hairs found at the crime scene with the defendant’s hair, and said they matched up. This technique was used in North Carolina until DNA testing of hair became available, around 2003. We don’t know how many of the 900 are death penalty cases.
We now know that this kind of forensic “science” is junk. Subjective forensic evidence, such as hair comparisons and bite mark comparisons, have been a contributing factor in more than a quarter of the 329 DNA-exoneration cases in the U.S. since 1989.
Last week, the FBI admitted that it has overstated the reliability of hair analysis in virtually every case where hair evidence was presented, including 36 cases where defendants were sentenced to death.
Only three of the cases the FBI identified were in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a big problem.
Guess where North Carolina’s SBI learned its hair analysis techniques? From the FBI.