The beleaguered State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) crime lab has lost a valuable ally following the recent investigation into sloppy, if not fraudulent, procedures. The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys (NCCDA) has asked for a thorough investigation of all issues in every area of the lab. The NCCDA joins a long list of critics and places it shoulder-to-shoulder with the state’s criminal defense attorneys in calling for the comprehensive review.
The organization believes that a full-scale audit will help to restore the public’s confidence in the justice system. That confidence has been seriously eroded as the SBI lab’s testing methods and ethical lapses have come to light in an investigative series in a Raleigh newspaper.
Last week, the attorney general’s office reported the results of its audit of the lab’s blood analysis unit. The results confirmed the newspaper’s allegations that SBI analysts had withheld test results that they thought would not support a conviction. The practice may have compromised as many as 230 cases.
Though grateful that the attorney general is taking action, critics remain skeptical about the audits. The SBI is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and its close ties to district attorneys’ offices may have promoted the skewing of test results. The effectiveness and thoroughness of a self-managed audit, then, is easily called into question. The NCCDA joined defense attorneys in calling for an independent audit.
Still, for all the talk of an independent audit, the SBI has enlisted the help of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help with the audit of the lab’s firearms unit. And, the director has asked a team of lawyers from the DOJ to review all of the lab’s policies.
Legislators say they are committed to funding the investigations, whatever form they take. Anything, they say, “to make it right.” Said one state senator, “I’m worried about the person who is locked up who may be innocent.”
As the full picture of the lab’s practices comes to light, hundreds of convictions could be overturned.
Resource: Raleigh News Observer “DAs Demand Full SBI Audit” 8/28/10