According to the National Institute of Justice (n.d.), forensic science plays a key part in the criminal justice system. Forensic science analyzes physical evidence, therefore, presenting scientifically-based information to investigators (National Institute of Justice, n.d.). However, incorrect forensic work can lead to the conviction of innocent people (Hsu, 2012).
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Dr. Fredric Whitehurst, a former FBI special agent, has continuously proved that there has been manipulation of evidence in numerous big cases (Stein, 2012). Additionally, the National Whistle-Blowers Center (NWC) (n.d.) states that Dr. Whitehurst has disclosed flaws in FBI forensic investigations that have resulted in wrongful convictions. Responding to Dr. Whitehurst’s revelations, the Justice Department coined a task force to review the affected cases (NWC, n.d.).
However, to date, most defendants and their attorneys are yet to be notified of the flaws in their cases (Hsu, 2012). Additionally, the number of cases reviewed by the task force is much fewer than the projected number affected by these flaws (Hsu, 2012). Furthermore, the task force focused on cases by one scientist in the FBI lab despite the problem being widespread (Hsu (2012). It is believed that thousands of cases, in all the courts, are directly affected by these forensic errors (Hsu, 2012). This paper, therefore, provides an insight into Dr. Whitehurst’s revelations of flaws in the FBI forensic investigations.
Efforts made by Dr. Whitehurst in a bid to expose the widespread flaws in the FBI forensic lab cannot be overemphasized. Since the 1990s, he has revealed gaps in the FBI forensic investigations that may have led to wrongful convictions (NWC, n.d.). For a long time, Dr. Whitehurst requested the Justice Department to act on forensic flaws he observed as an explosives expert for the FBI (NWC, n.d). After he resigned from the FBI, in 1998, Dr. Whitehurst instituted the National Whistle Blower Forensic Justice Project.
He has now worked for the NWC, for more than ten years, in an effort to find out who was actually affected by these wrongful convictions. Momentarily, he doubles as a board member of NWC and the head of its forensic justice project (NWC, n.d.). In this capacity, he has been of great help to the Washington post in its investigation into alleged failures of the Justice Department (NWC, n.d.).
The most striking revelation by Dr. Whitehurst is the level of manipulation in the FBI’s forensic investigation findings. It is unbelievable that the FBI scientists made juries believe in someone’s guilt through testimonies full of lies (NWC, n.d.). According to Valentine (2004), Dr. Whitehurst divulged that the FBI pressured scientists to lie.
In one of his testimonies, Dr. Whitehurst stated that he declined to doctor a report to support the notion that a urea nitrate explosive was used in the World trade center bombing (Valentine, 2004). Additionally, he revealed that there were serious cases of incompetence in the FBI crime lab. For instance, he claimed that some of the FBI scientists could not tell a bomb from sewage (Valentine, 2004). Therefore, many are still in prisons or executed for cases that they should have been exonerated from (Hsu, 2012).
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This is because forensic science experts may have wrongfully identified them as suspects. For instance, Benjamin Herbert Boyle, who was executed in 1997 by a Texas court, would have been absolved was it not for the FBI’s flawed work (Hsu, 2012).
The FBI condemned critics who called for its outside accreditation terming it as a criminal and scientific scandal (Stein, 2010). Initially, the FBI also tried to discredit Whitehurst’s revelations. He was, in fact, kept under investigation for leaks (Stein, 2012). However, Whitehurst’s work bore fruits when the FBI justice system sought outside accreditation (Stein, 2010) and agreed to constitute a task force to review cases affected by its flawed investigations (NWC, n.d). This task force completed its work in 2004, after taking nine years to review these claims (Hsu, 2012).
Though the FBI and the Justice Department agreed that there were serious flaws in the forensic evidence presented by the FBI, the task force’s findings were never communicated to the wrongfully convicted (NWC, n.d.). Surprisingly, these findings are yet to be made public (Hsu, 2012). However, the Justice Department claims to have informed the prosecutor of the flaws (Hsu, 2012). In its defense, the department argues that it is not its duty to inform the defendant directly (Hsu, 2012).
The mantle of informing the defendants, therefore, rests with the prosecutors. Conversely, the prosecutors have chosen not to inform the defendants or their attorneys. Most defendants and their attorneys only came to know about their cases through the Washington post (Hsu, 2012). Moreover, it is now evident that only the work of one FBI special agent, Michael P. Malone, was questioned, although, the problem was widespread (Hsu, 2012).
For instance, Evidence that convicted Santae A. Tribble of killing a taxi driver in 1978 came from other FBI experts. Nevertheless, further DNA tests cleared the two of any wrongdoing (Hsu, 2012). Neither of the two cases were part of the task force review (Hsu, 2012). This is an indication that the matter is miles away from being resolved.
The task force took so much time and effort to investigate this problem but failed to follow up on defendant notification (Hsu, 2012). If most of the affected defendants are not notified of flaws in their cases, then, the task force work remains irrelevant. In addition, the notification of the prosecutors by the Justice Department is a small stride in the right direction.
However, efforts should be made to ensure the prosecutors inform the defendants and their attorneys of the flaws in their cases. In addition, agents and prosecutors found guilty of any wrong doings should be charged in a criminal court (Sloan, 2010). Furthermore, the remaining cases whose forensic analysis had issues should be reviewed (Sloan, 2012).
In this regard, the criminal department can yield better results by working closely with other experts (Sloan 2012). Moreover, forensic scientists should be competent enough, work in accredited laboratories and produce results that are consistent with similar researches (Sloan, 2012).
In conclusion, it worth noting that Dr. Whitehurst has greatly assisted those wrongfully convicted by exposing flaws in FBI forensic investigations(NWC, n.d.). However, though the Criminal Justice Department has acknowledged flaws in the FBI forensic labs, little has been done to notify the defendants (NWC, n.d.).
Additionally, only a few of the affected cases have been reviewed by the task force (Hsu, 2012). Furthermore, the findings of this task force are yet to be made public (Hsu, 2012). Therefore, it is highly recommended that more cases should be reviewed and the defendants and their attorneys notified of any forensic failures (Sloan, 2012). Moreover, in the future, the task force should be transparent enough to ensure fairness in the convictions (Sloan, 2012).
Hsu, S.S. (2012, April 17). Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept. The Washington post. Web.
National Institute of Justice. (n.d.). Forensic science. Web.
National Whistle Blowers Center (n.d.). FBI whistleblower first exposed forensic flaws: Frederic Whitehurst vowed to help wronged defendants. Web.
Sloan, J. 2012. Justice department should ‘step up’ on flawed forensic evidence. Web.
Stein, J. (2012). Spy talk .Free the FBI crime lab. Web.
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Valentine, C, A. (2004). Frederic Whitehurst, FBI lab whistleblower testifying at the world trade center bombing trial 1995. Web.