A North Carolina forensic crime lab was found to have failed to follow proper reporting procedures, according to a state inquiry commission.
A 2012 article by Paul C. Giannelli, in the publication Criminal Justice, highlights a report released by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, in which they detail the failures of the crime lab, SBI Forensic Laboratory, in its reporting practices when it comes to criminal cases.
In 2010, the commission reviewed the case of Gregory Taylor, where blood evidence, and the corresponding crime lab report, was used to obtain a conviction in the original trial. During the course of the inquiry, the commission uncovered the bench notes of the lab technician, Duane Deaver, which showed that the confirmation tests performed indicated the absence of blood in Taylor’s car. However, these notes were not handed over to the defense at the time.
Because of this discovery, according to the 2012 article, North Carolina’s attorney general at the time, appointed two former FBI special agents to investigate SBI’s lab practices, who identified several deficiencies. Those deficiencies included that between 1987-2003, SBI had the “potential that information was material and even favorable to the defense was withheld or misrepresented.”
“A vigilant defense counsel would have
quickly discovered that the lab report
was based on a preliminary test”
In his article, Giannelli points out that there have been past incidents of crime labs failing to adhere to a strict code of impartiality. Giannelli even cites various studies that show how crime labs often lose their objectivity, quoting a 1993 study by Andre A. Moenssens that stated crime labs “may be so imbued with a pro-police bias that they are willing to circumvent true scientific investigation methods for the sake of ‘making their point.’”
Giannelli says that defense attorneys and prosecutors have a responsibility in ensuring that such reporting is accurate and properly investigated. “A vigilant defense counsel would have quickly discovered that the lab report was based on a preliminary test,“ he says in his paper.
He also quotes the U.S. Supreme Court, which said, “A party whose counsel is unable to provide effective representation is in no better position than one who has no counsel at all.”
Prosecutors are required to provide defense lawyers all notes and information generated from the crime labs, since the U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that such information is exculpatory.
Because of the inquiry commission’s investigation, North Carolina took legislative steps to reform how crime labs operate. This includes making the labs “client” no longer the prosecutors and police, but instead the “public and criminal justice system” and making it a criminal offense to willfully omit or misrepresent information subject to disclosure.