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The questionable validity of hair analysis

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

A considerable number of defendants are convicted of serious crimes in Colorado each year, with many types of evidence securing those convictions. Often, confessions or eyewitness testimony is the deciding factor, but forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA analysis, contributes as well.

Over the past decade, one form of forensic evidence—analyzing hair to link strands found at a crime scene to a suspect—has faced mounting criticism. Because of this, any criminal defense team should vigorously challenge hair analysis, as many are now questioning its validity.

How hair analysis works

During a hair analysis, a crime analyst puts a piece of hair under a microscope and studies it in immense detail. The hair has either been found at a crime scene or connected with a crime. The analyst then compares that hair with a strand of hair from a suspect in that crime. In theory, the differences and similarities in the microscopic constitution of those hair samples form a basis for tying a suspect to a crime by claiming that it’s highly likely that the hair found by investigators belongs to the suspect.

A lack of scientific support for the technique

Although initially deemed an impressive investigative technique, recent revelations suggest that the accuracy of hair analysis has been vastly overstated. The advent of DNA testing has compelled legal teams to reassess convictions predating its availability. Shockingly, these reviews have unveiled significant errors in convictions obtained through hair analysis.

In the end, there simply isn’t any scientific backing for hair analysis. No study exists demonstrating that the analysis is accurate enough to meet the standard for a conviction to be made in a criminal court. The fundamental problem with hair analysis is that hair isn’t like a fingerprint in which each person’s is distinct. As a result, analysts will routinely reach false conclusions when trying to match a hair to an individual person.

Hair analysis has been used in court for decades to secure convictions for serious crimes, even capital cases. Yet, recent discoveries are causing some to question whether it should even continue to be used when seeking convictions.

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