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Hair samples, testimony getting attention from FBI

Criminal investigation shows, like the "CSI" series, have remained wildly popular over the past several prime time television seasons. A lot of our readers in Colorado may even be a fan of one series or another. While it works for dramatic purposes, a single drop of motor oil or minute piece of purple thread does not conclusively prove guilt.

These single items act as the tipping point on a television show, but in real life they are only one piece of circumstantial evidence. Forensic evidence is often used in sexual assault cases, and while only circumstantial, carries a lot of weight with juries -- and exactly why a defense attorney is so vital in protecting against the admission of faulty or unreliable forensic evidence or testimony. 

The FBI recently announced that it will be reviewing over 2,000 cases from 1985 to 2000 in which a hair sample played a significant role in leading to conviction. 

Why? The Innocence Project has proven that forensic evidence from this era has contributed to a number of wrongful convictions. According to data collected by The Innocence Project, there have been at least 310 individuals exonerated based on DNA evidence. Of those cases, 72 of the convictions involved hair evidence. 

While one issue was that DNA evidence testing was certainly in its early stages, that was not the only problem in cases. The testimony of the lab analyst presenting the evidence raised serious concerns. 

In some instances, the science was presented as more accurate than it really was, and in other cases the analyst overinflated their qualities making them seem like an "expert" when that was not the case. 

To help with the review, the Justice Department has stated that it will help waive certain deadlines and procedural requirements that can cause some delays involved in challenging convictions. 

Source: Star-Telegram, "FBI announces review of 2,000 cases featuring hair samples," Michael Doyle, July 18, 2013

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