Illinois’s Slow (Non-existent) Response to Error & Scandal

Here we go again.

The federal government is due to release a report concluding that bite mark comparison is junk science and totally unreliable. This report comes more than a year after the FBI formally acknowledged that its “scientists” systematically gave flawed testimony regarding hair comparison analysis in trials all over the country. And that acknowledgment came six years after the federal government’s 2009 report that questioned the reliability of all sorts of forensic “science” disciplines, including bite marks, hair comparison, toolmark analysis, ballistics, and others.

What has Illinois’s collective response to these systemic errors and scandals?

A shrug.

I just don’t get it. How can our state law enforcement leaders learn of these errors and not feel compelled to examine cases of individuals still in prison based on this flawed evidence? Individual post-conviction litigators can only do some much – we take cases as they come to us, and try and identify the bad cases one-by-one. But surely state law enforcement agencies have the ability and records to audit cases that relied on this type of flawed evidence. Isn’t there a moral and ethical obligation to do so, knowing that an unknown amount of individuals may be rotting in prison based on evidence now acknowledged to be unreliable?

Is auditing these cases a big job? Sure it is a big job. But guess what…when you run for county prosecutor, or you reach the highest levels of the Attorney General’s Office, you have committed yourself to taking on big jobs. These positions come with obligations. And in my mind, those obligations start with making sure people are in prison based on reliable evidence.

So Attorney General Lisa Madigan: How about issuing a press release and posting a public notice on your website announcing that convicted defendants can write to you if they believe they were convicted based upon flawed hair or bite mark comparison testimony? Or better yet, post the notices in prisons across the state.

These do not seem like overly onerous steps to take. And it is simply the right thing to do.