Director John Byrd of the state crime lab is due credit for what he says are dramatic improvements in the turnaround time for processing cases, now reduced by an average of 150 days, to under a year. Byrd says the lab, which does DNA analysis and other work on evidence, is almost fully staffed.
The lab has come under serious fire since 2009, when testimony by one analyst at an innocence hearing spurred an independent review that came to the conclusion that analysts had frequently misstated or falsely reported on blood evidence over a 16-year period that ended in 2003. Obviously, that problem undermined the justice system.
Attorney Fred Whitehurst of Bethel, who criticized the lab work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation from his work there in the 1990s, is among those pleased by Byrd’s work. Whitehurst said the lab “should be used as a national model of how to get it right.”
This is all to the good, but other attorneys have a valid question as to whether the lab can be truly objective since it remains under the state Attorney General’s Office. One noted that prosecutors can access the lab’s results on its website, but the information is available to defense attorneys only by court order. Thus the process, not just the numbers cited by Byrd, is still problematic.
Byrd thinks the lab has been a scapegoat, and he’s due credit for what he’s done, a tough job to be sure. But there remains room for improvement in how the system works in order to ensure fairness for defendants.