FBI Still Sorting Out 2,500 Cases That Used Flawed Bullet Evidence

Monday, January 25, 2010

The FBI’s use of the so-called “comparative bullet lead analysis” has been discredited by federal research, forcing the law enforcement agency to review nearly 2,500 convictions that may have been aided by the now debunked theory.

First developed in the early 1960s, the bullet analysis was based on the idea that trace elements lifted off bullets found at crime scenes could be matched up with bullets found in a suspect’s possession, thus indicating guilt. In 2005, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science concluded that the FBI’s conclusions from its bullet testing were flawed because millions of bullets can contain trace elements in identical quantities. This revelation forced the FBI to stop relying on the analysis in its investigations and in court, but the agency has been slow to complete its re-examination of the 2,500 cases that may have been tainted by it.
So far, the agency has found 187 convictions that relied on expert FBI testimony about the bullet analysis during trial, prompting officials to notify local prosecutors about these findings. Three convictions that were overturned involved a Colorado man who served 12 years in prison for a double slaying, a Florida man who served 10 years after being convicted of killing his wife, and an Oregon man convicted of a triple slaying.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
FBI’s Forensic Test Full of Holes (by John Solomon, Washington Post)
Forensic Analysis: Weighing Bullet Lead Evidence (Committee on Scientific Assessment of Bullet Lead Elemental Composition Comparison, National Research Council)


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