Notification from the ASCLD/LAB Board of Directors to Interested Parties Concerning Potential Issues with Hair Comparison Testimony

It has recently been brought to ASCLD/LAB’s attention that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Justice are jointly in the process of reviewing pre-1999 microscopic hair comparison cases in which evidence was examined by the FBI Laboratory and the reports issued and/or the testimony provided indicated a positive association(s) between known samples and crime scene evidence.  This case review was initiated as a result of several convictions being overturned in 2012, following DNA testing of evidence.  Subsequently concerns were raised as to how the results of microscopic hair comparisons were explained to the juries in these cases.

The case review discussed above is not intended to be an assessment of the validity of the science of microscopic hair comparisons but may determine if reports and associated testimony exceeded the limitations of the science.  The FBI is not currently reviewing hair comparison cases that were examined after 1999 because the application of DNA testing of hair evidence was implemented on a routine basis at the FBI Laboratory by the end of 1999.

The purpose of this notification is not intended to highlight the events taking place in the FBI Laboratory but to raise awareness within the Forensic Science Community and the Criminal Justice System that there may be a broader need for review of reports and testimony provided in microscopic hair comparisons made prior to the routine implementation of DNA technology in hair comparisons.  The time period for potential review will vary from laboratory to laboratory depending upon when the use of DNA technology may have been implemented for hair comparisons in the laboratory.

We have an ethical obligation to “take appropriate action if there is potential for, or there has been, a miscarriage of justice due to circumstances that have come to light, incompetent practice or malpractice.”iIt is not ASCLD/LAB’s intent to direct that such reviews be conducted by any laboratory or judicial system but it is our recommendation that each laboratory, in consultation with the appropriate legal authorities, consider whether there may be past cases, specifically involving convictions, in which it would be appropriate to evaluate the potential impact of the reported conclusions and/or related testimony on the conviction.