State News

SBI alters drug analysis policy after ruling

Posted August 18, 2010

— The State Bureau of Investigation has changed its procedures for identifying drug evidence after North Carolina’s Supreme Court balked at the practice of sometimes using visual inspections instead of testing.

Ann Hamlin, the special agent in charge of the drug chemistry section of the SBI lab, said in an e-mail released by the agency this week that it will do chemical analysis on both felony and misdemeanor cases. An SBI chemist had previously testified that the lab would sometimes analyze the physical characteristics of tablets to determine the drug.

The state Supreme Court, in a June ruling, said the visual inspection process was not sufficiently reliable.

“Ultimately, the State is better served by identifying perpetrators with reliable evidence and reducing the likelihood that convictions rest on inaccurate data,” justices wrote.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper did not immediately know how many cases were affected by the decision.

Special Agent Irvin Lee Allcox, a chemist at the SBI lab, testified as part of the case that he had worked for 34 years with the agency, most of that time as a chemist in the crime lab. He believed that counterfeit tablets could be identified because genuine tablets have certain colors, shapes and markings.

Allcox testified that the lab has limited resources and is unable to do chemical testing on all the drugs. The lab would focus chemical testing on cases that would support felony charges and visual testing on apparent misdemeanor ones, according to a Supreme Court review of the case.

The Supreme Court case, brought on appeal after the conviction of Jimmy Waylon Ward, was a felony case. Still, the lab identified some of the case’s drugs by visual inspection. The high court sent the case back to lower courts for additional proceedings.

The SBI and its crime lab have been under fire since February, when an SBI agent testified at an innocence hearing about a policy to not include all information on blood tests in lab reports provided to courts.

Earlier this year, Cooper asked two former assistant directors of the FBI to review the lab, and he has planned a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the review. 

Cooper recently asked new State Bureau of Investigation director Greg McLeod to review the firearms identification unit.

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  • jackcdneh1017 Aug 18, 2010

    @ratherbnnc In actual fact, my case has nothing to do with drugs or identification of same. I hope you never find yourself the victim of the corruption in North Carolina politics and its judiciary, legal system. I wonder if you actually read the papers to decide that virtually everyone in the North Carolina political arena is bought off, seeks bribes, provides favors, spends illegally with campaign contributions ad nauseum. The integrity of any system is only as good as its weakest leak. If you support flawed science to convict people, you are that weak link and one day you or a loved one may pay the price. Nice guess about my guilt. But you are wrong.

  • ratherbnnc Aug 18, 2010

    Having personal experience with the criminal prosecution process in this state and its abysmal record of outright falsification of evidence to put innocent people in prison, I am wondering where all the Constitutionalists stand on these issues. Nothing can be worse for a citizen's rights than be falsely accused, falsely charged, falsely persecuted based on a system that is fundamentally corrupt. Evidence that is not scientifically factual should never be permitted to convict anyone. If the methods and science isn't good enough, don't try to use it.
    jackcdneh1017

    I would venture to say that based on your admission, that your name wasnt on the questionable list, so therefore you are probably guilty!

  • FE Aug 18, 2010

    Let me see if I've got this correct:

    A technician from the SBI can merely look at a tablet, determine what is in it, and then use that "analysis" to support the presence of a controlled substance for criminal prosecution in a court of law?

    I would not have a real problem if the official report plainly said "tablet looks like such and such which generally contains such and such." OTOH, few jurors would convict on a report like that, would they?!?

    Tricks like these add a new dimension to the concept of analysis by a skilled (?) SBI individual.

    I would love to see what happens to the other 189 or so similar cases - all by the SAME guy or by other well-qualified "analysts" within the SBI?

    FE

  • Bendal1 Aug 18, 2010

    How many criminal cases are going to be retried or thrown out thanks to the SBI's bungling? I have a friend who works for another state's SBI and she says the way our SBI is working is inexcusable; if they operated like that the entire office would be fired and replaced.

    Once the courts start releasing convicted criminals because of SBI's faulty investigations, we'll really start seeing some anger from the politicians.

  • ConcernedNCC Aug 18, 2010

    Eastern N.C. Native: It is very possible to put together bogus marijuana that smells the same and looks so much like it that only a magnifying glass examination will suggest that it MIGHT not be the real thing. Even the smoke smells the same. I've seen it done some thirty-five years ago.

  • Eastern N.C. Native Aug 18, 2010

    I wouldn't waste money analyzing marijuana. That one is easy to identify both visually and by smelling it. Other stuff, definitely analyze. I'm surprised they didn't analyze all other drugs already.

  • jackcdneh1017 Aug 18, 2010

    Having personal experience with the criminal prosecution process in this state and its abysmal record of outright falsification of evidence to put innocent people in prison, I am wondering where all the Constitutionalists stand on these issues. Nothing can be worse for a citizen's rights than be falsely accused, falsely charged, falsely persecuted based on a system that is fundamentally corrupt. Evidence that is not scientifically factual should never be permitted to convict anyone. If the methods and science isn't good enough, don't try to use it.

  • CrewMax Aug 18, 2010

    ". I think that everyone should take a look at themselves before they criticize others."

    And the people responsible for handling evidence and, hence, the lives of people are in their hands, should be professional and beyond reproach, whatever their salary. If you would settle for less, then your fate should be in their hands one day.

  • dougdeep Aug 18, 2010

    You can't tell the difference between a fake Callaway and a real one by looking at it, why would pills be any different?

    You want more criminal lab funding? Stop wasting time on drugs.

  • ghimmy51 Aug 18, 2010

    jbg353 those markings are on there for doctors and pharmacists to identify the drugs. That's good enough in most cases. As far as criminals in the SBI lab, I'd rather have any of them in my house than a real criminal. Talk about naive!!!

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