RALEIGH — The State Bureau of Investigation is refusing to turn over the failed certification tests of some crime lab analysis, North Carolina prosecutors say.
About two dozen analysts failed national certification tests that were supposed to reassure the public that lab work is performed correctly, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday.
The agency was criticized by an auditor two years ago who found that hundreds of blood examinations had been incorrectly reported. A review found that the SBI lab’s policies and procedures improperly favored prosecutors.
Now prosecutors worry that the analysts” failure on the tests will call into questions hundreds of cases that have been handled since December.
SBI leaders have resisted handing over the test results, contending they are private personal records that could only be released under a court order.
“It makes it look like we’re hiding stuff,” said Ben David, New Hanover County District Attorney and incoming president for the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. “We have to live in sunshine as much as possible. Recent history should have made all of us more sensitive to this.”
The reaction to the audit two years ago was a proposal that all SBI lab analysts be certified in their discipline if a test is available.
“We certainly anticipated and expected that most of our analysts would successfully achieve certification,” said Joseph John, director of the crime lab.
Supreme Court decisions give defendants the right to any evidence that could help their case, and specifically to have to any information that could call into question the testimony of witnesses against suspects, such as lab technicians.
John says he planned to tell district attorneys in January about the high failure rate, but never sent a letter he wrote on the subject.
In Forsyth County, Superior Court Judge Ronald Spivey on Thursday ordered the SBI to turn over a list of analysts who failed the exam to the district attorney in Winston-Salem. The judge ordered prosecutors to share any potentially evidence that might show innocence with defense attorneys.
John said the SBI will comply.
Buncombe County District Attorney Ronald Moore this week asked a judge to order SBI leaders to hand over the records. Moore says the agency refusal to provide the information is “illegal” A hearing is set on the request June 26.
John did send an apology letter to district attorneys Wednesday, saying he took full responsibility.
He says he doesn’t know how many analysts failed because of incorrect answers in their discipline or outside of their area of expertise. People should not assume that a failure on the exam means the analyst is unqualified to work and testify in cases.
“It appears to be a leap that people assume being uncertified means unqualified,” John said. .
Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com