Winston Salem Journal: Opinion: The SBI Lab

“The proposal to separate the state crime lab from the State Bureau of Investigation is gaining traction in the legislature. As we said here last month, the SBI’s lab should be put under another state agency, where its staff can work independently as unbiased scientists — not sworn law-enforcement officers.

An audit of the lab ordered by Attorney General Roy Cooper revealed analysts omitting, overstating or falsely reporting blood evidence in cases involving 269 people from 1987 to 2003. A recent series in the Raleigh News & Observer detailed problems in blood evidence, as well as in other areas of the lab’s work.

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Joe Hackney are the most powerful among several leaders voicing concern about the lab. Basnight wants to remove the lab from SBI control so that it does not report to police or prosecutors. “You have to separate that connection,” he told the Raleigh newspaper last week. “There were people who did anything to secure a conviction. How many innocent people have been convicted?”

Cooper, who oversees the SBI, has been working hard to reform the lab and keep it under SBI control. But some lab scientists have compromised their work in the efforts to help police and prosecutors in several cases in recent years, and that may well continue as long as they’re working for a law-enforcement agency.

Perhaps the legislature could place the lab under the Administrative Office of the Courts or the state Medical Examiner’s Office. It could be run by a forensic scientist and be overseen by an advisory panel of defense attorneys, police officials, prosecutors and forensic scientists appointed by the governor.

Such a move is overdue. “The SBI is supposed to do good work and be fair, neutral and truthful,” Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Chapel Hill, who oversees the criminal-justice budget, told the Raleigh paper. “It doesn’t look like we got what we paid for.”

«The SBI lab

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