Homicide Convictions Questionable – Sbi Under Scrutiny

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The unit within the State Bureau of Investigation responsible for bloodstain pattern analysis in criminal cases is under serious scrutiny after an audit conducted by two retired FBI supervisors in a News & Observer series showed severe problems with the way the unit has been run. The series exposed bizarre and less than scientific experiments conducted by analysts and reports that were distorted to align with prosecutor’s theories. As a result of the audit, dozens of cases in which the SBI bloodstain pattern analysts testified have come under question.

The major problem with the unit is that it has had absolutely no leadership guidelines or written policies for the past 21 years. In fact, the first policy ever written was dated October 2009, which was only eight weeks after a Clemmons dentist was acquitted of homicide charges in part due to shoddy blood stain analysis. Although the SBI crime lab has recently been criticized for withholding or misreporting results of blood tests affecting at least 230 cases, the discrepancies in the bloodstain unit nearly went unnoticed. They were harder to discover because the actual blood pattern work done by the analysts is not an official part of the crime lab.

Lack of a formal policy meant that agents were free to run the unit in an unregulated way. The audit showed that the director responsible for training the agency’s bloodstain pattern analysts had withheld test results that were favorable to defendants in several of his cases.

In the dentist’s homicide case, the director and another agent allegedly changed the initial report to conform to the prosecution’s theory that the dentist had stabbed himself in order to feign self-defense. The director has been replaced by a temporary agent until the permanent position can be filled.

Professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University stated that the lack of policy was “astounding.” Commenting on forensic practice she said, “If you are a reputable unit, you have written procedures for everything you do.”

Source: newsobserver.com, “SBI bloodstain analysis team had no guidelines for 21 years,” Joseph Neff and Mandy Locke, 9/9/10