News 08.17.10

Report Finds Serious Flaws in NC Crime Labs


A new investigative series in the Raleigh News & Observer

reveals a troubling pattern of forensic error and misconduct in North Carolina’s state crime lab. The four-part series highlights biased and unscientific work at the State Bureau of Investigation, and officials have responded by calling for sweeping changes.

According to the News & Observer, SBI agents distorted the rules to yield the desired test results of the prosecution more than a dozen times when the truth threatened to undermine their cases.

“The documented policies and practices of our state lab support the long-held concern that North Carolina’s lab is the prosecution’s lab, not the justice system’s lab,” said Christine Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which works to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “Public confidence, judicial confidence and the lives of innocent citizens have been destroyed. It is past time for change.”

North Carolina is among 38 states whose crime labs are controlled by a law enforcement agency where tests aren’t administered in an independent scientific setting. A 2009 report on forensics from the National Academy of Sciences finds that law enforcement labs are often not the most scientific environments.

“The best science is conducted in a scientific setting as opposed to a law enforcement setting,” said the NAS report to Congress. “Forensic science serves more than just law enforcement; and when it does serve law enforcement, it must be equally available to law enforcement officers, prosecutors and defendants in the criminal justice system.”

The News & Observer series also found that SBI agents have concealed test results and ignored key evidence of innocence. As a result, defense attorneys in North Carolina often hire their own experts to examine evidence.



Since the series was published

, Attorney General Roy Cooper removed the SBI director, hired an outside auditor and suspended all bloodstain pattern analysis work. A state legislator is calling for the creation of an independent crime lab.

“Everybody ought to understand that this is something that needs to be fixed,” said State Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat who heads the powerful budget committee.

To date,

seven people

have been exonerated in North Carolina through post-conviction DNA testing.


Read the four-part series here

.


Read the Innocence Project’s recommendations for forensic oversight and independent forensic labs

.

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