Washington, D.C. July 11, 2012. The Washington Post reported today that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have launched the largest post-conviction case review in American history. The review was sparked by the work of Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a top FBI crime lab expert who initially blew the whistle on the laboratory’s misconduct twenty years ago, between 1992 and 1998.
In response to Dr. Whitehurst’s original whistleblower disclosures, the DOJ formed a Task Force in the mid-1990s to review thousands of cases impacted by Dr. Whitehurst’s allegations and to determine if any individuals were wrongly convicted. At the time, the DOJ and FBI pledged to correct their mistakes. However, the DOJ Task Force review was conducted in secret and resulted in very few defendants being notified of problems with forensic evidence.
Results from the Task Force were not publicly released until Dr. Whitehurst succeeded in obtaining Task Force documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the DOJ. As head of the National Whistleblower Center’s (NWC) Forensic Justice Project, Dr. Whitehurst and the NWC worked extensively with the Washington Post to analyze and publish the Task Force findings in April 2012.
The results of the NWC/Post analysis were shocking and documented the poor job that the DOJ did to review the FBI Lab problems that had been reported by Dr. Whitehurst. Rather than fix the problems at the FBI Lab, the DOJ relied on prosecutors and kept most of the problems secret.
Dr. Whitehurst stated:
Imagine working for decades to force the Justice Department to take responsibility for the FBI’s broken lab practices. By including other groups like the National Whistleblower Center and the Innocence Project in its investigation, the Justice Department is admitting that its past investigations of the FBI were broken. Today marks a turning point for the wrongfully convicted and their families, but my work will not be over until every innocent victim is freed.
Today’s announcement by the DOJ is a tacit acknowledgment of what Dr. Whitehurst has been alleging for decades—that the problems at the FBI Lab still need to be fixed.
This delayed effort by the FBI and the DOJ to review cases will review only hair and fibers cases handled at the FBI. However, Dr. Whitehurst’s work implicates many more cases affected by the FBI Lab scandal that have yet to be reviewed and that will fall outside this effort.
Dr. Whitehurst is available for comment and interviews on this recent development and the forensic fraud at the FBI Lab.
- Washington Post, “Justice Dept., FBI to review use of forensic evidence in thousands of cases.” July 11, 2012.