Monday, January 31, 2011

North Carolina crime lab withheld test results in over 200 cases

Never forget who runs the "crime labs" in most jurisdictions. In most instances they are under the control of a local or state policy agency. In North Carolina they're run by the State Bureau of Investigation.

An audit conducted on the North Carolina crime lab in 2010 found that between 1986 and 2003, there were over 200 cases in which the lab had withheld blood test results. One of those cases involved Mr. Greg Taylor who sat in prison for 17 years for a crime he didn't commit.

According to Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director hired to conduct an audit on the North Carolina crime lab:
"There were over 230 cases where reports were not complete. Or reports didn't actually correspond to the laboratory notes, or information was not presented in the report that was in the laboratory notes as to the results of the test. What we saw was ... just not right." 
It may not have been right but it is par for the course in the criminal courthouse.

The state brings charges against an individual through the office of the district attorney following an investigation or arrest by a law enforcement agency. If any tests are conducted on blood, fluids or other substances at a crime scene, those samples are sent to a crime lab operated by (in most cases) either a local law enforcement agency or the state police. The lab technicians were trained by the law enforcement agency, paid by the law enforcement agency and taught to testify by the law enforcement agency. The results of these tests are then accepted as gospel by courts and force fed to juries. Should the defense wish to retest any samples, the defendant must cough up the money for another lab to conduct tests.

This is not unbiased science. This is "science" that is paid for and conducted for the same folks who are trying to lock our clients up. Tests are conducted and reports are written by folks who consider themselves part of the prosecution's team at trial. These same labs then require defense attorneys to issue subpoenas or obtain court orders in order to get copies of reports and test results.

Until these labs are separated from law enforcement and placed under the authority of those not involved in the investigation or prosecution of crime there will be more stories like that of Mr. Taylor.

1 comment:

Walter Reaves said...

Amen Brother. A lot of what is done in crime labs involves subjective judgments. In forensics too much information can be bad - e.g. who the suspect is. The only way to ensure impartiality is to isolate them from both the defense and the prosecution.