State News

Panel makes recommendations for SBI changes

Posted January 18, 2011 2:06 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2011 7:08 p.m. EST

— A legislative panel examining North Carolina's crime lab has recommended changes to promote confidence and integrity in the lab's work.

The Joint Select Study Committee on the Preservation of Biological Evidence approved Tuesday a dozen proposals, from requiring lab workers to be certified to creating a special commission to advise Attorney General Roy Cooper on the lab's science and procedures.

They now go to the General Assembly, which reconvenes next week.

The recommendations stem from bad publicity for the State Bureau of Investigation lab and an outside report examining its work. The report — covering a 16-year period until 2003 — found analysts had misrepresented blood work and kept notes from defense attorneys.

The legislative committee rejected 7-9 a proposal that would have made the SBI lab director report directly to the attorney general – a compromise that some members had hoped would help regain the public’s trust in the agency.

Critics of the crime lab have long complained that the lab seeks to build cases to support law enforcement theories rather than seeking the truth.

The panel did, however, agree to changing the lab name to the North Carolina Crime Lab, hoping that would help.

The SBI has asked the General Assembly for $3.94 million in new funding to help with changes.

About $2.1 million would replace equipment in the SBI crime lab, $1 million would be used for professional training, $502,000 for system upgrades and $236,000 for outside certification and accreditation.

The SBI has already made some changes to its operations and is making others, including expanding public oversight of the lab.

Last week, Cooper appointed former District Judge Vinston Rozier of Wake County as an ombudsman to handle concerns that arise from the public. Cooper said he also wants a forensic science advisory board made up of professionals outside the SBI to regularly review lab operations.

Other changes include a comprehensive legal review of all lab sections and a more stringent accreditation process, turning over all results of lab tests, including analysts’ notes and increased training for employees.

The SBI is also looking for a permanent lab director who has a professional science degree and a strong background in forensics.