Faulty Forensic Evidence: Exonerating the Innocent



In recent years, forensic evidence has come under increased scrutiny. Jurors generally accept forensic evidence in a criminal trial as foolproof. However, it can be inaccurate and lead to wrongful convictions and devastating consequences. Innocent defendants are wrongfully incarcerated or executed, while the guilty are free in the community to victimize again.

Modern advancements in forensic science have improved the quality and accuracy of criminal investigations. It has freed many who were wrongfully convicted of crimes in the past, when such technology was not available. However, those that were exonerated continue to face physical, mental, emotional, and financial hardships. Studies have demonstrated that even today, some forensic methods do not consistently produce accurate results.

The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) lists 2,657 exonerations between 1989 and August 2020. Of those, 24% of the exonerations reported false or misleading forensic evidence as a contributing factor.

Challenging the Evidence

When charged with a crime based on faulty forensic evidence, the evidence may be discredited with the assistance of a skillful criminal defense attorney. The AP Law Group has proven results defending the accused in pre-trial proceedings and the courtroom. A defendant deserves to have their case analyzed for potential errors that may contribute to a conviction. A pre-trial motion to suppress evidence may change the course of a trial. Our criminal defense attorneys meticulously investigate the collection and analysis of forensic evidence and cross-examine expert witnesses during the trial to test credibility. We know how to present a strong case and are passionate about seeking justice for those convicted of crimes they did not commit.

How Does it Happen?

Forensic science is a powerful tool used to determine the guilt or innocence of an alleged perpetrator of a crime. However, many times, expert testimony is just an informed opinion. False forensic evidence can occur for various reasons, such as human error, poor workmanship, or contaminated samples. There have been crime lab scandals when the unlawful behavior of crime lab technicians did not perform tests properly, especially drug tests.

Forensic expert testimony may overstate or oversimplify evidence from a crime scene. Due to the subjectivity of the analyst, the results may be biased. In addition, many forensic methods are not scientifically validated yet are admissible in court. It is not an exact science, rather it is a probability claim.

Examples of Faulty Pattern-Matching Forensic Evidence:

  • Hair Analysis- Hair is routinely collected at a crime scene. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigations acknowledged in 2015 that hair analysis is flawed in at least 90% of cases. An examination of hair by two different examiners may give different results.
  • Bite Mark Comparisons- This evidence has not been scientifically validated. Studies completed by experts have found results to be inconclusive.
  • Shoe Print Comparisons-Shoe prints can link a suspect to a crime scene, but they do not provide information about the time the suspect was there. Shoe prints are often destroyed or altered at a crime scene.
  • Fingerprint Evidence- Information such as matching points of comparison does not prove guilt. It is impossible to determine when a fingerprint was left at a crime scene.
  • DNA evidence- DNA technology has made significant advances over the past decade and is frequently used to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. However, DNA evidence must be properly collected and handled. Lab technicians must follow the testing methods methodically. DNA can quickly degrade when exposed to heat or humidity. It can be contaminated at a crime scene or laboratory where analysis is conducted.

Examples of Exonerated Cases

  • Elmer Daniels faced a conviction in 1980 for first-degree rape in Delaware. He received a sentence of life in prison. There was powerful forensic evidence based on the testimony of an FBI expert on hair analysis at the trial. The case was reviewed when the FBI admitted the analyst’s testimony “exceeded the limits of science.” The court exonerated the defendant in 2018.
  • Julie Rea was convicted of killing her son in 1997 in their Illinois home. The conviction was based mainly on the testimony of a blood splatter analysis expert. She was exonerated in 2010 when the forensic testimony was challenged, and a convicted murderer on death row confessed to the killing.
  • Derrie Nelson of Washington, D.C., was convicted of murder and assault in1986. He was incarcerated since that time but exonerated in 2022 when it was discovered and reported by an FBI analyst that the hair analysis used to convict the defendant was found to be false and misleading.
  • Richard Jackson was convicted of murder in 1998 in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In that case, two bloody fingerprints were the only evidence collected. A panel of experts reviewed the case and concluded that the bloody fingerprints did not belong to Mr. Jackson. The FBI agreed there was no credible evidence to convict the defendant, and eventually, the conviction was vacated, and the charges dismissed.

Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys

Faulty forensic science stated as irrefutable facts in the courtroom can be dangerous, leading to questionable or wrongful convictions. The AP Law Group is well-versed in criminal law and routinely handles federal and state cases for all of Florida. Whether you are the target of an investigation or have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, we are proactive and aggressive in our efforts to protect your legal rights and find the best solutions. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The AP Law Group at (352) 732-9191 to schedule an appointment at our Ocala or Gainesville, Florida offices.