Comment of the Day: “KABOOM! Head Exploded, Can’t Write, Don’t Need To: The FBI Forensic Scandal”

FBI 1

Long-time Ethics Alarms commenter Michael R. delivers another of his provocative and informative Comments of the Day, this time on the festering scandal that is prosecutor misconduct and abuses of due process in our criminal justice system. This kind of commentary justifies the existence of Ethics Alarms, in my view, regardless of what I may write here. It is a virtual template for what makes a Comment of the Day.

Here is Michael R’s COTD on the post, “KABOOM! Head Exploded, Can’t Write, Don’t Need To: The FBI Forensic Scandal”…

There has been a war in forensic science between what I call the “scientist group” and the “prosecutor/police” group. This has led to the travesty that we call forensic evidence in the criminal justice system.

If you read the Office of the Inspector General Report below, you will see that the evidence in the Oklahoma City Bombing was highly fabricated to implicate Terry Nichols, at least. It also should be noted that this report was available before the trial, but was disallowed by the judge, who ruled that this case was too important to be tried on the facts (the defense was not allowed to even mention that this report existed, much less talk about what was in it).

http://www.justice.gov/oig/special/9704a/
http://www.cnn.com/US/9703/22/okc.fbi.report/

In addition to the OIG report we also have compositional bullet lead analysis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/17/AR2007111701681.html

Now this. Why should I respect the government, its officers, and its judges who allow such things to happen? It isn’t just the FBI, it is West Virginia (state police), Houston (apparently everyone in their crime lab, ever based on the number of scandals), Oklahoma City, Massachussetts, NYPD… This is commonplace. In all these cases, the prosecutors knew what was going on, the judges knew what was going on, but no one said or did anything until a whistleblower came forward. When the scandal is revealed, none of the guilty parties is ever punished, but the whistleblowers sure are.

The root of this problem is the prosecutor and police culture that is allowed to influence the forensics labs. The insistence of the use of their bizarre form of inductive reasoning leads to horrible scenarios and untold wrongful convictions. The idea that “this person did it” followed by the “how can I twist the evidence to prove they did it” seems to be the standard operating procedure in law enforcement.

The crime labs need to be decoupled from this ‘legal’ culture. They need to be independent and need to be equally available to the prosecutor AND defense. That’s right. The defense attorneys need to have the ability to run forensic tests on the evidence and have full access to all crime lab findings, just like the prosecution does. The official forensic experts need to be available to testify for BOTH sides. Until then, you will only get a perversion of justice. http://www.iowaiai.org/bad_science.html

6 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “KABOOM! Head Exploded, Can’t Write, Don’t Need To: The FBI Forensic Scandal”

  1. Many, many thanks for this, Jack. As you might remember, I have very little trust in the “justice” system in this country. Seeing this made public gives me hope. But — will anything be done?

  2. Someone said that the CSI show was one that he quit watching because forensic science was at best junk science. Obviously, this is not the case, as Michael has pointed out. CSI is, to me, vastly entertaining as a cop-show, but points out one of Michael’s objections. CSI’s are NOT cops, nor should they be. They do not carry guns and participate in SWAT raids. They are scientists, first, last and foremost. My belief is that the labs should, as Michael suggested, be totally independent, not part of the police or prosecutorial agencies and all the evidence and analysis thereof should be available to all parties concerned.

  3. There is some room for hope. If you notice, this type of hair evidence testimony ended in 2000. That is most likely due to the investigation of the explosives/arson unit due to the extreme whistleblower activity of Fred Whitehurst. His undying fight against this type of activity led to the OIG report I linked (when the FBI wouldn’t do anything about these activities, he took it straight to Congress). This report led to the reorganization and actual accreditation (yes, the FBI crime lab was not accredited) about 2000. That reorganization and accreditation hopefully stopped this type of hair testimony as well.

    To stop this corruption of the justice system, we need more people to come forward when they see wrongdoing. Now, it would help if we didn’t treat our heroes so badly. The price for Dr. Whitehurst has been extremely high. He was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle. His wife was also fired and possibly assaulted. These firings were upheld by the courts because the FBI is specifically exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act (it is legal for them to retaliate). He is fraudulently charged with a new federal crime roughly every 6 months, so he is always out of bail, restricting his movement. He is under constant surveillance. He went to law school and got a law degree because Georgetown Law is cheaper than paying lawyers to defend him. I believe that this has been allowed to continue because, quite frankly, Fred Whitehurst had to be a fearless asshole to do what he did. He urinated on a watch glass to demonstrate that the FBI lab analysis was worthless in the World Trade Center bombing. We don’t like people like that. They don’t make a sympathetic, inspirational hero to put on the Oxygen channel. We don’t like the constant complainers, the nitpickers, the person that insists we can do this better, but sometimes we need them. Sometimes, when we have a big problem that seems like no one can fix, that no one can do anything about, we just need one fearless asshole to take it on, damn the consequences. How many people like that do we have left?

    • Sadly, damn few. Most folks seem to be either confirmed nay-sayers or easily intimidate-able. Or, they identify the wrong problem.

  4. This is so SICK!! But our government has been , becoming increasingly corrupt beyond words. This is in all departments and all areas. Yep, even our court systems.
    There is nothing that truly supports the Whistle blower. The only reason I can think of as why there is no immense strong law to protect a Whistle blower is that , those in government/law feel that if to do so would / could possible incriminate them someday.

    • I’m also kind of curious as to why the Fu-Bee (FBI) should be exempt from the Whistleblowers Protection Act. Seems like the one agency that would need it the most.

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