Posted on 20 Jan 2011
Earlier this week, a legislative committee approved proposals intended to address the misconduct and incompetency that has plagued the SBI Crime Lab. The results of a recent independent audit of blood analysis revealed that evidence was withheld or misreported in over 200 criminal cases. The investigation also called attention to the lab’s outdated practices, biased policies and lack of transparency.
The failure to report test results and exculpatory evidence has directly contributed to the wrongful conviction of defendants. Derrick Allen’s charges of murder, sexual assault and child abuse were dismissed earlier this month due to the crime lab’s discrepancies - after he spent over 12 years in prison. And, just last February, we learned the incredible story of the NC Innocence Commission’s exoneration of Greg Taylor - after he spent 16 years in prison. How many other innocent men and women continue to sit behind bars due to the dubious actions of SBI agents?
The proposed changes to the SBI’s operations include the disclosure of all notes and test results, requiring certain training and certification of lab analysts, and the creation of an independent advisory board of scientists with expertise in pertinent fields. While it is encouraging to see that the inexcusable conditions at the SBI lab are finally being addressed, the question remains - if they are approved, do they go far enough? The nagging concern arguably is the lab’s lack of independence from law enforcement and prosecutors. The real way to restore citizens’ confidence in the lab’s work, and to avoid wrongful convictions like those of Derrick Allen and Greg Taylor, is to create more transparency and accountability.