Study questions FBI portrayal of bullet evidence

February 11, 2004|By Charles Piller | Charles Piller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

A scientific report released yesterday revealed serious flaws in FBI testimony involving evidence on the chemical composition of bullets presented in hundreds of criminal cases.

The report stopped short of condemning the forensic method outright, but it proposed changes in how the bureau portrays bullet-lead evidence that would significantly undercut the technique's usefulness in a criminal trial, forensic science experts said.

The report called FBI testimony that crime-scene bullets could be linked to bullets found in a box owned by a suspect, or to similar boxes manufactured at the same time, "seriously misleading" and "objectionable." The findings could lead to the reopening of cases in which bullet-lead analysis played a role in convictions. FBI examiners have testified about the method in about 500 cases since 1980.

The new report was conducted by a panel of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academies, the United States' preeminent scientific society.

A Los Angeles Times investigation of bullet matching published last year suggested that the FBI's use of the technique might have greatly inflated its scientific validity.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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