State News

Judiciary panel OKs SBI crime lab changes

Posted February 9, 2011

— Recommendations to improve operations at North Carolina's crime laboratory quickly cleared a House subcommittee on Wednesday, after the lab was the target of bad publicity and a blistering report last summer chronicling problems with past work by lab workers.

The House judiciary panel agreed unanimously on proposals from a group of lawmakers, law enforcement and judicial officials that met for months to discuss how to improve the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab.

The legislation, now likely to head next the full House for debate, would create a standing advisory panel to regularly review the lab's scientific work. It also would change the lab's formal purpose to make clear it doesn't work solely for the prosecution. It would make clear that it's a crime for someone to willfully withholding any lab tests from attorneys in a case. Withholding material could be grounds for a felony obstruction of justice charge.

"This isn't to say this is going to solve all of the issues," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, one of the bill's co-sponsors and leader of the commission assembled by the General Assembly that met last year to recommend changes. But he called it "very, very significant progress in terms of getting the lab back to where we all believe that everything that comes out of the lab in terms of its science is the best and credible science that there can be."

The commission's work accelerated after an outside review by former FBI officials uncovered more than 200 lab cases were improperly handled during a 16-year period ending in 2003 — often due to misrepresented blood work and keeping notes from defense attorneys. Attorney General Roy Cooper asked for the review after testimony by an SBI agent at the hearing of a man wrongly imprisoned nearly 17 years for a murder conviction. The man, Greg Taylor, was later exonerated and freed.

The bill would change the name of the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory to the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory and make clear lab personnel serve "the public and the criminal justice system," and not to "render a reasonable service to the prosecuting officers of the state."

"The job of the lab is to produce objective science wherever that leads, whether it favors the prosecution or it favors the defense," Glazier said.

Some committee members questioned whether the bill goes far enough.

"Changing the name ... I'm not sure that is all that's needed to be done," said Rep. David Guice, R-Transylvania. He said he remains concerned that some lab personnel remain as sworn SBI officers.

Greg McLeod, the bureau's new director, said some situations still require lab employees as agents, such as when the SBI is called to disassemble a meth lab. But "we're certainly moving away from the sworn status in the crime lab," McLeod said.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, who served on the subcommittee and the group that made the recommendations, said he'd prefer the Legislature have the SBI lab director report directly to Attorney General Roy Cooper, rather than to McLeod. He said it would give the lab more independence and reduce the perception that the lab works for prosecutors.

The group that made the recommendations narrowly rejected a similar proposal after local police feared it would weaken their ability to solve crimes. Michaux said he hoped the Senate would consider the leadership structure change, but he didn't want to delay the bill with an amendment.

McLeod, Cooper and interim SBI lab director Joseph John already have made changes to the lab over the past several months. Cooper had recommended the creation of a science advisory board. Other sections of the SBI lab are being audited, and the lab is seeking a second, higher accreditation from an outside group.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • John Sawtooth Feb 9, 2011

    I like that they are putting into law the basis that the crime lab is to be objective, and not work for the prosecutors. I like that they're increasing oversight. I *REALLY* like that witholding evidence will clearly be felony obstruction of justice (it was all along, but nice to underline that).

    We'll see how things turn out. It's a shame the former malfeasance/misfeasance by its nature tainted the work of hoest people - but recertifying the whole system is certainly worth doing, to properly serve the citizens of NC.

  • the people Feb 9, 2011

    One FAIR Question!!!!!! Whers's all leaders been while this was going on for years we don't even know of??????? where are the GRANd Juries being seated at???? Is there not a procedure for this mess?????? Poor would be in jail already!!!!!! Fair is Fair!!!! So,poor don't get to testify about how they were jammed up???

  • the people Feb 9, 2011

    If a Police Department had done this Fed's would be all up in yo face with 42 USC 1983!!!! Like a buzzard!!!!ON a dead poossum!!!But being it is State Agency they slide on by ,overlook!!!!! Incredible!!!!!

  • the people Feb 9, 2011

    O.K!!!!! How many politicians folks were put in jail without cause????? My point exactly ,NONE--ZERO!!!!! Follow evidence and maybe we won't be so dence next time!!!!! Poor people catch it!!!!

  • mrcrosbys Feb 9, 2011

    Put a TuTu on it and some lipstick and call it a hot date, it is still a corrupt system that will never have credibility again

  • the people Feb 9, 2011

    Where were all you when all these people went to jail,on Golf course shooting some golfs?????? Let's hear about that?????

  • WHEEL Feb 9, 2011

    As long as Cooper has anything to do with it, it will continue to be screwed up. Changing the name of the lab is just exactly the sort of mickey-mouse thing he thinks is accomplishing something.

  • Inter Alios Feb 9, 2011

    This proposal does not go far enough. The lab has to be removed from SBI control for the taint to be removed. Cooper has been too slow to react. The only person to be sanctioned is Deaver, and even he was allowed to be on paid leave for months before he was fired. Other heads need to roll, indictments need to be handed down and the SBI needs to be stripped of any connection to the lab. Considering the fiasco they have created, Cooper and the SBI have not earned the credibility to say "trust us to make it right".