WTF Fun Fact 13080 – Errors in Hair Analysis

Crime scene analysis and the scientific investigation of crime scenes got a lot of attention once we started seeing them on television. More people than ever wanted to go into the field. But the science underlying some of these investigations is shaky at best. And in 2015, the FBI had to admit that at least one aspect of their crime scene analysis training was seriously flawed. Over 3000 cases needed to be rechecked for errors in hair analysis.

The Innocence Project

Sometimes we think the science on biological evidence left at a crime scene must be iron-clad or prove that a person was there. But that’s simply not the case.

In fact, it was the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) who jointly reported that:

“…the Department and the FBI are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI also are committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science. The Department and FBI have devoted considerable resources to this effort and will continue to do so until all of the identified hair cases are addressed.”

Improving the science going forward

Of the past errors, the statement also revealed:

“These findings confirm that FBI microscopic hair analysts committed widespread, systematic error, grossly exaggerating the significance of their data under oath with the consequence of unfairly bolstering the prosecutions’ case,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “While the FBI and DOJ are to be commended for bringing these errors to light and notifying many of the people adversely affected, this epic miscarriage of justice calls for a rigorous review to determine how this started almost four decades ago and why it took so long to come to light. We also need lawmakers in Washington to step up and demand research and national standards to prevent the exaggeration of results in reports and in testimony by crime lab analysts.”

Sadly, many who were perhaps wrongfully convicted still had to wait for evidence to be reassessed.

“It will be many months before we can know how many people were wrongly convicted based on this flawed evidence, but it seems certain that there will be many whose liberty was deprived and lives destroyed by prosecutorial reliance on this flawed, albeit highly persuasive evidence. Just as we need lawmakers to prevent future systemic failures, we need courts to give those who were impacted by this evidence a second look at their convictions,” said Norman L. Reimer, Executor Director of NACDL.  WTF fun facts

Source: “FBI Testimony on Microscopic Hair Analysis Contained Errors in at Least 90 Percent of Cases in Ongoing Review” — FBI.gov

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WTF Fun Fact 12720 – Let Them Eat Cake

We’ll spare you some of the legal jargon, but we did actually read the 51-page judgment of an Irish court declaring that the bread used by restaurant chain Subway is now basically considered a confectionary in Ireland.

It wasn’t exactly riveting, but it was enlightening. And to summarize – it all had to do with paying taxes. Otherwise, we doubt Ireland would have bothered to consider it any more closely. And no one is saying you can’t call it bread – the judgment is only referring to how the bread is categorized for tax purposes.

This started when an Irish Subway franchisee, Bookfinders Ltd. filed a suit claiming that they were due a refund for value-added tax (VAT) payments between January 2004 and December 2005.

Their argument hinged on 2 paragraphs of the Value Added Tax Act of 1972, which described which goods and services should have VAT added to them. Bookfinders claimed that the majority of their goods fell into the category requiring a 0% rate (rather than the 13.5% they had paid).

That category includes: “chocolates, sweets and similar confectionary (including glacé or
crystallised fruits), biscuits, crackers and wafers of all kinds, and all other confectionary and bakery products whether cooked or uncooked, excluding bread…”

And “bread” is specifically defined as “food for human consumption manufactured by baking dough composed exclusively of a mixture of cereal flour and any one or more of the ingredients mentioned in the following subclauses in quantities not exceeding the limitation, if any, specified for each ingredient…”

To spare you more jargon, we’ll just say that the subclause in question is the one that says that in order to be considered bread, the weight of any fat, sugar, or “bread improver” cannot exceed 2% of the weight of the flour included in the dough.

It actually gets pretty complicated since there are different tax rates for different items and part of the argument is about averaging out tax rates, how tax rates might differ for businesses offering primarily take-out goods, and whether the temperature of the food makes a difference when it comes to taxing it.

This might be the very best (and by best we mean absurd) sentence: “They [Bookfinders] also submitted that the 1972 Act breached the principle of legal certainty by making the difference between ambient air temperature and the temperature of the food central to their VAT classification.”

Anyway, in the end, the fact that Subway’s bread had too much sugar in it (5 times as much as allowed by the tax code), means it is not considered bread for tax purposes.

Subway was pretty miffed at the implication that their bread was not bread, saying:

“Subway’s bread is, of course, bread. We have been baking fresh bread in our restaurants for more than three decades and our guests return each day for sandwiches made on bread that smells as good as it tastes.”

Our favorite commentary on the matter is this Tweet:

If anything, people got a warning that their sandwich bread had a lot of sugar in it, but there doesn’t seem to be much proof that anyone cared.  WTF fun facts

Source: “For Subway, A Ruling Not So Sweet. Irish Court Says Its Bread Isn’t Bread” — NPR

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WTF Fun Fact 12569 – Idaho’s Cannibalism Prevention Law

An Idaho statue reads:

TITLE 18
CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS
CHAPTER 50
MAYHEM

18-5003.  CANNIBALISM DEFINED — PUNISHMENT. (1) Any person who wilfully ingests the flesh or blood of a human being is guilty of cannibalism.
(2) It shall be an affirmative defense to a violation of the provisions of this section that the action was taken under extreme life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival.
(3) Cannibalism is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding fourteen (14) years.

So, our first question is: only 14 years? That seems lenient.

But perhaps even more interesting is that because Idaho is the only state with a law so explicitly addressing cannibalism, it’s also the only state in which the act is legal in some cases. Go re-read #2.

Basically, if you ingest human flesh or blood under extreme life-threatening conditions and it is your apparent means of survival, you’re all good. We imagine this could create some interesting legal loopholes.

Source: “Did you know that these ‘odd laws’ existed in Idaho?” – Associated Press

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