Finding Fault In Forensic Fraud Cases

Frederic-Whistehurst-FBI-whistleblowerIn a new Trailblazers podcast episode titled Forensics: Who’s on the case, Walter Isaacson delves deep into the history of forensic fraud cases. The show details three stories of victims wrongly accused by criminal investigators and faulty forensic practices. What does history teach us about the validity of forensic technology?

The host gave a story about Richard Buckland the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence. A story of a fingerprint that nearly imprisoned Brandon Mayfield who was accused of terrorist activity and later found to not even be in the same country. Finally, hair samples that were wrongly attributed to Santae Tribble by special criminal analysts. The innocent man served 28 years and later exonerated. We find a pattern in these cases. In the courtroom, we find the fault is not whether the forensic methods were effective, rather the fault lies in the findings not founded on best scientific practices.

Dr. Frederic Whitehurst blew the whistle on such cases of misconduct in the FBI crime lab. FBI whistleblower Whitehurst recalls that many people he worked with had no training in physical sciences, and these investigators falsely testified in court. Whitehurst states that the FBI after scrutiny and his lawsuit now has established published protocols and the forensics lab is “light years ahead of where they were” but warns that they “[FBI] still have things to fix.” History has shown that DNA testing has produced over 350 exonerees, many of whom were on death row. But experts like Peter Neufeld of The Innocence Project have shown that 50% of wrongful convictions were a direct result of misuse of forensic evidence. 

There are techniques and research conducted by Sheffield Hallam University in England that could improve fingerprint analysis. History has shown that new technology and forensic evidence is certainly not perfect. Many times it is up to the individual whistleblower to question the techniques and be the insider in exposing the fraud. Citizens will continue to witness technology used to serve justice and the brave ones who expose forensic fraud cases.

Frederic Whitehurst’s Remarks on National Whistleblower Day 2018

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