NC crime lab wins international seal of approval

jneff@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

The state crime lab has recently been awarded a long-sought seal of approval.

Forensic Quality Services, a Florida-based organization that audits and inspects crime labs, told the State Bureau of Investigation this week that the lab had met the standards required by the highest global standard for forensic science laboratories.

In August 2010, Attorney General Roy Cooper, who oversees the SBI, promised to improve practices and policies at the crime lab. He was reacting to a News & Observer series that detailed how some rogue agents and crime lab analysts bent the rules or pushed past the bounds of science to deliver answers pleasing to prosecutors.

Shortly after, an audit commissioned by Cooper laid bare a practice of omitting test results that may have cost hundreds of defendants a fair chance in court.

“Quality work by the crime lab is critical to solving crimes and ensuring justice for victims and suspects,” Cooper said in a press release. “I’m proud of our forensic science professionals for achieving the highest standards and pursuing the latest science.”

The accreditation is an important step in meeting international scientific standards, according to Chris Mumma, director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence.

Mumma, a frequent critic of the lab, said one remaining problem is that the lab reports to both law enforcement and prosecutors: the SBI and the attorney general.

“As recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, in order to avoid unintentional human bias, forensic labs should be independent in testing and reporting, as well as in culture,” Mumma said.

Mumma also called on the SBI to fulfill its 2011 promise to create an advisory board on science and the law to be made up of prosecutors, defense lawyers and law enforcement.

The main SBI lab in Raleigh is now internationally accredited in all its disciplines: drugs, toxicology, biology and DNA, firearms, trace, latent and digital evidence.

The state’s other two labs also stepped up their credentials. The Triad Regional Crime Lab in Greensboro is accredited for drugs and digital evidence, while the Western Regional Crime Lab in Asheville is accredited for drugs, firearms, trace and latent evidence.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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