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Inmates Unaware of Suspect Bullet Evidence Used Against Them

Posted Nov 19, 2007 11:54 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two criminal defense groups will conduct their own reviews of cases in which defendants were sent to jail with the help of now-discredited evidence of lead content in bullets.

The groups acted after an investigation by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes that found the FBI abandoned the forensic tool two years ago but did not alert hundreds of defendants who may have been convicted based on such evidence, the Washington Post reports. The FBI announced late last week that it will also review the cases and notify prosecutors if testimony about the science was misleading.

The legal groups, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Network, say they will go further, working to help find lawyers for affected defendants.

The FBI used such evidence in an estimated 2,500 cases over three decades, but it has not released the list. The Post-60 Minutes investigation identified 250 such cases, including more than a dozen in which questions have been raised about whether the defendants were innocent, the Washington Post reported in its Sunday editions. Four summer associates at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom helped conduct an online search for such cases.

The evidence technique, called comparative bullet-lead analysis, was used to link crime scene bullets to those owned by suspects. FBI examiners had assumed that every batch of bullet lead was compositionally uniform throughout and that no two batches were alike. But an FBI study showed the assumptions weren’t necessarily true, the ABA Journal reported in its September 2004 feature, “Bullet Proof.”

Even after the FBI stopped using the technique, it told defense lawyers it "still firmly supports the scientific foundation of bullet lead analysis" in a 2005 letter explaining its decision.

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