SBI Lab Practices Questioned

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is facing criticism from prosecutors and defense attorneys after a recent audit determined that evidence may have been withheld or misreported.

Attorneys and state officials are calling for an official and independent review of the SBI lab after an initial review determined that over 220 cases may have been impacted by nonexistent procedures concerning blood evidence. Since the initial audit, questions have also arisen over the ballistics tests and DNA analysis provided by the lab.

Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered the review, which was conducted by two former FBI agents. They examined over 15,000 cases that were handled by the lab from 1987 to 2003. The audit focused on the use of blood evidence, and how the lab reported its findings to prosecutors. Out of the 220 cases where problems were found, 190 resulted in charges being brought against an offender. While the evidence may or may not have been used at trial, both prosecutors and defense attorneys feel the lab results from this time period are unreliable.

One of the most concerning aspects for attorneys is that the lab did not have official policies in place for bloodstain analysis until October of 2009. Prior to that time, technicians were not required to perform any specific scientific tests. When evidence was received, critics contend that the lab looked for methods to strengthen the prosecution's case, and did not report any information that would have weakened these cases.

Despite the lack of official policy, the lab is certified by The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB), which is one of the main organizations that accredit crime labs in the U.S. ASCLD-LAB is led by former SBI officials who worked at the lab when some of the questionable practices occurred, which has led to renewed concerns about the lab's ability to provide independent analysis.

With so many cases potentially jeopardized by bad evidence, the credibility of the lab is very much at stake. Prosecution and defense attorneys feel that until an official audit is complete, the public will not view SBI evidence favorably. A team of eight has been appointed by new SBI director Greg McLeod to lead a national search to find a new leader for the SBI lab.

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