When a Raleigh newspaper reported this past summer that analysts in the crime lab of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation routinely withheld test results favorable to the defendant, the scientific community and defense attorneys urged the state to make the crime lab independent of the state’s law enforcement agency. Those efforts may be redoubled in light of recent revelations.
This week, the newspaper reported that it was not only the practice for analysts to withhold possibly exculpatory evidence, it was also the policy. According to the audit conducted in August, the SBI had long held onto test results that could have helped defendants’ cases. It was just understood that’s how things were handled. In 1997, the policy was finally put in writing by a 25-year veteran of the agency who also supervised and trained staff in blood and DNA analysis.
The written policy was approved by SBI management, including the director. According to the report, they “embraced” the practice of reporting only the results that would help prosecutors. If prosecutors didn’t have the information, they didn’t need to disclose it to defense counsel. Only the analyst knew for sure.
The audit harshly criticized the reporting procedures, stating that the lab’s method omitted the confirmatory test results and misstated facts. The practice made it look as if there were no additional tests. The manager who wrote the policy could not explain it.
A professor of serology at the University of Illinois at Chicago told the newspaper that the first-stage tests are generally reliable, although that was no reason not to conduct the confirmatory tests. He added that the practice may not be “completely forthcoming” but is nevertheless fairly common and has been for a long time.
SBI crime lab personnel now say both the policy and the practice are a thing of the past, insisting that scientific analysis serves the criminal justice system as a whole.
Resource: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) “SBI Veterans Wrote and Approved Bad Blood Policy” 10/13/10