Lab implementing changes, working toward international standards
The State Crime Laboratory continues to solve crimes and make improvements as part of its mission to serve the criminal justice system and protect the public, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.
“Quality work by the crime lab is critical to solving crimes and ensuring justice for victims and suspects,” Cooper said. “I expect the SBI to keep pursing the highest standards and the latest science.”
The State Crime Lab analyzes crime scene evidence including digital evidence, drugs, DNA, firearms, fingerprints, hair and fibers. Analysis by forensic scientists working for the lab can pinpoint suspects and exonerate the innocent.
For example, through June of this year DNA analysis performed by the lab has yielded 173 hits to the DNA database to help solve cases in North Carolina and across the country. During the same period, lab experts used DNA to eliminate more than 100 potential suspects as the source of DNA from evidence tested. In all cases where DNA evidence does not match the suspect identified by investigators and the evidence meets federal eligibility requirements, lab experts search the DNA database of more than 210,000 profiles to look for a match, or hit, to a new suspect. The lab also performs DNA analysis post-conviction that can help clear wrongfully convicted individuals.
Cooper initiated a series of changes at the SBI last year, including appointing SBI Director Greg McLeod and acting Lab Director Judge Joe John, Sr., following the results of an independent review he commissioned looking at past serology cases and lab practices dating from the late 1980’s.
A number of changes are strengthening the lab’s work:
• Continued work toward accreditation under the more stringent ISO standards. Already the drug chemistry section is operating under ISO sampling standards, and other sections are being brought online with eventual full operation expected later this year. That will allow the lab to be accredited by two outside organizations, becoming one of the first such to have dual ISO accreditation.
• Additional external certification for all SBI forensic scientists in their individual disciplines, including external peer review. For example, all computer forensic scientists have achieved individual certification and more than eighty lab scientists are reviewing prepatory materials in anticipation of an examination and subsequent certification later this year.
• Eliminated the SBI field agent bloodstain pattern analysis program which had been suspended last July.
• Completed full legal review of all lab operations, including policies, training and procedures and assigned full-time legal counsel to lab.
• Completed two independent audits of the lab’s DNA unit and the lab was found to meet the highest national standards.
• An on-site review of the SBI Firearms Unit was conducted by a team of outside experts in late 2010 and the SBI is awaiting final results.
• Cameras in place for use in the Firearms Section and working with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to draft procedures to integrate this new technology into ISO policies with full implementation expected later this year. Additionally, an independent analysis of evidence in a Pitt County case has confirmed the analysis of an SBI examiner.
• Solicited nominations for members of an advisory board for the lab made up of science professionals.
• All lab reports and bench notes provided to prosecutors for sharing with defendants through the discovery process. Improvements to the Forensic Advantage system are also underway to make document retrieval easier.
• Transmitted to District Attorneys complete files on past cases identified in the independent review and subsequent Crime Lab legal review.
• Expanded process for soliciting feedback from courtroom personnel on forensic scientists’ court testimony.
• Formed a partnership with NC State University, Fayetteville State University and Wake County CCBI to establish a Center for Forensic Science Excellence here in North Carolina and are awaiting approval for federal funding from the National Institute of Justice.
• Conducting a national search for a permanent lab director who has a scientific background. An advisory committee made up of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and judicial officials has worked with an executive search firm to identify candidates, conduct interviews and recommend names to the Attorney General and SBI Director.
• Developing a process for making all lab policies, procedures, training materials and accreditation information available to the public online.
• Providing advanced courtroom testimony training for our field and laboratory personnel.
• Providing additional forensic science training for the criminal justice system, including training for both state prosecutors and defense attorneys. The initiative also seeks to present informational sessions for the State’s trial judges and is exploring opportunities to work with state bar groups to developing a forensic science continuing legal education (CLE) seminar.
• Exploring a “Visiting Scientist” Forensic Science Program at the laboratory that will leverage university resources, provide practical experience to students, and develop talent in the field of forensic science.
“The scientists working in the state crime lab are dedicated professionals and we appreciate their hard work,” said SBI Director McLeod. “Our goal is to provide the best training and equipment possible to ensure that the lab’s work warrants the absolute confidence of the public and the criminal justice system.”