Big Crime Lab Scandal in North Carolina

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

My crime column this week looks at the latest forensics scandal, a report from two former FBI agents that says North Carolina’s state crime lab withheld or mischaracterized evidence in at least 230 cases, including three murder cases that resulted in execution.

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17 Responses to “Big Crime Lab Scandal in North Carolina”

  1. #1 |  Cackalacka | 

    Was wondering when you’d comment on this story.

    I think you’re a bit nice to Roy Cooper. His fingerprints were all over the Alan Gell case a couple years ago.

  2. #2 |  pc | 

    Aren’t there criminal penalties for this kind of thing?

  3. #3 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “North Carolina’s state crime lab withheld or mischaracterized evidence in at least 230 cases, including three murder cases that resulted in execution.”

    Close enough for government work.

  4. #4 |  Peter Ramins | 

    Crime labs have the same disease that arbitration companies have – whereismybreadbuttereditis.

  5. #5 |  Dakota | 

    @2
    “Aren’t there criminal penalties for this kind of thing?”

    If this is true:

    “North Carolina’s state crime lab withheld or mischaracterized evidence in at least 230 cases, including three murder cases that resulted in execution.”

    Yes, Conspiracy to commit murder.

  6. #6 |  Michael Chaney | 

    He also objected to moving the crime lab to a different government agency so that analysts wouldn’t be reporting to prosecutors, telling the News & Observer, “You don’t want to hobble law enforcement by removing key tools such as technology to prevent them from solving crime.”

    I’ve seen this before, and I agree 100% with Roy Cooper in that law enforcement needs to have a crime lab. Badly. They need to be able to analyze crime scenes to determine who to pursue in their investigation, what type of investigation (murder or suicide?), etc.

    But that crime lab shouldn’t be involved in the prosecution and should be banned – by statute – from ever doing anything involving the court case.

    I won’t rehash all of this again, but at trial the prosecution and defense should get an even amount for scientific analysis to be conducted in a scientific manner (double blind, etc.) at independent labs that are independently certified. They should also have equal access to evidence.

    That would go a long way toward fixing the problem.

    One other thing, Radley, and I’m beating another dead horse:

    Which means preventable mistakes will continue to send innocent people to prison, and allow guilty people to remain free.

    Words matter. A lot of what you’re dealing with here are not “mistakes”, they are intentionally sending innocent people to prison.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand the mindset. I’m a real “tough on crime” guy – but I am adamant about being tough *on the actual criminal*.

  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    One of these days I’m going to have to read what it is the FBI is tasked with doing. I see they reported on this case, but it sure would be nice if they actually got some convictions of corrupt government types and freed some innocent civilians.

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    I’d like to see the government argue for “absolute prosecutorial immunity” with a straight face.

  9. #9 |  jrb | 

    Aren’t there criminal penalties for this kind of thing?

    There are for us lowly peasants. I’m not sure they apply to the government workers. (Well, I’m actually pretty positive that they should, if they don’t. But they’re the ones in charge, and you know what that means.) If you haven’t already learned, the real class conflict is between the rulers and the ruled.

    Even if the laws did apply to them, who would arrest the offenders? Who would file charges and prosecute them? Who would preside over the trials? These government folk seem to take care of their own, for the most part. Anyone arrested would not likely be prosecuted. Those prosecuted would likely have the cases thrown out by the judges. Those cases not thrown out by the judges would likely be hamstrung by the prosecution or the government witnesses. In only the most egregious cases would there be any remote possibility of a real trial, and that might be only for show with the “not guilty” verdict against the offenders predetermined.

    Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but experience seems to bear out my views.

  10. #10 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Jrb – Mike Nifong was the most egregious case to hit the mainstream conscience in recent memory, and essentially nothing happened to him. I think that’s the answer.

  11. #11 |  Jaquan | 

    First San Francisco, now NC? When will police stations and the public learn that crime labs are useless? http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/04/22/san-francisco-drug-lab-scandal-symptom-of-a-wider-problem/

  12. #12 |  Mike T | 

    The report found that SBI agents withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases over a 16-year period. Three of those cases resulted in execution. There was widespread lying, corruption, and pressure from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on crime lab analysts to produce results that would help secure convictions. And the pressure worked.

    If the media were actually the watchdog that it claims to be, this, not the damn 9/11 mosque, would be headline news. Reporters should be naming names and ruining the lives of the SBI employees who participated in this.

  13. #13 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Yeah, the Justice system in NC is odd. If you get charged with
    DUI you go to District Court–no jury.
    The cops don’t have videos in their cars because too
    many were getting in trouble for protocol violations.
    The defendant I knew in a DUI case went directly to the
    hospital afterwards–the doctor refused to do the blood test but still charged $600.
    Also his diagnosis (alert, responsive, etc) was considered “hearsay” whereas the cop’s notes were accepted.

    These NC courts are just set up to convict. Glad to see it
    coming back in their faces.

  14. #14 |  Michael Chaney | 

    As a followup to my other note, there’s another aspect of the “crime lab”, and that is whether their results are exclusionary or complete. A lot of what a crime lab for a government does should be accepted only as exclusionary, that is, to exclude a certain piece of evidence.

    As an example, police usually have field kits to test for the presence of certain substances, e.g. drugs. These are notorious for false positives. No problem. It means that they’re still useful for saying “well, that’s not marijuana”. There is value in that. But it has no place in court.

    Same with breathalyzers. They’re very unreliable and should be inadmissible in court. But it’s still a useful tool. If someone blows a 0, they probably haven’t been drinking and there’s no need to follow that line of thought. If he blows a .1, take him for a blood draw and find out what it *really* is.

    Police crime labs should be breathalyzers, not blood draws.

  15. #15 |  Charlie O | 

    None of this is any surprise to me. After my two involvements with the so-called justice systems in California and Florida, it became quite apparent that no one, and I mean NO ONE employed by the system (cops, prosecutors, judges) gives a crap about truth or justice. It all about power and authority over the minions. That’s it.

  16. #16 |  Judi | 

    NC is my state…

    Looks like I need to crack a whip here too.

  17. #17 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    #7 | Boyd Durkin | August 23rd, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    One of these days I’m going to have to read what it is the FBI is tasked with doing. I see they reported on this case, but it sure would be nice if they actually got some convictions of corrupt government types and freed some innocent civilians.

    As one of my cohorts in the Air Force used to sing (to the tune of “Camptown Races”):

    “Lookin’ good is a full-time job, doo dah, doo dah….”

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