DNA Analysis Exposes Flaws in an Inexact Forensic Science

The following article and video documentary published by the New York Times on the 18th of May 2014 looks at how DNA analysis helped expose flaws in an inexact forensic technique.

Before DNA testing, prosecutors relied on less sophisticated forensic techniques, including microscopic hair analysis, to put criminals behind bars. But how reliable was hair analysis?

In the late 1980s, DNA technology upended the world of forensics.  Genetic fingerprinting, as it was often called, was a powerful tool to win convictions, but it also revealed cracks in the criminal justice system: innocent people were in prison. And many of them had been convicted in part using older forensic techniques, including microscopic hair analysis.

Before DNA, when a hair was found at a crime scene, it was examined under a microscope and compared with hairs from a suspect.  Though crime lab analysts knew that two hairs couldn’t be matched with perfect accuracy, hair comparisons proved to be powerful evidence linking suspects to crimes. In court, some examiners and prosecutors were certain that they had a “match.” But DNA exonerations are now forcing the criminal justice system to confront the limitations of hair analysis.

The following Retro Report video documentary zeros in on microscopic hair analysis and how the advent of DNA analysis ultimately proved it to be not quite as flawless as people had been led to believe.

The DNA Revolution: Hair Analysis from Retro Report on Vimeo.

To read the full New York Times article please click here.

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