Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Big Trouble in NC crime labs

We had a post recently about the wrongful conviction of Michael Green. More recently, we have been having a discussion with some folks over the $4.9 million dollar settlement the City of Atlanta agreed to with the family of a 92-year old lady that was killed when cops raided her home. Three cops are in jail as a result of that incident for, among other things, falsifying information on an affidavit, which means somebody lied to get the no-knock warrant they executed.

As we were stating in that discussion, cops are just like anyone else. They get biased. They get lazy. They get mad. All that can lead to cutting corners or maliciously screwing with people. Now...that's no different than any other job. But when that shit happens in the criminal justice field, the consequences can be disastrous.

Then today, we see the results of the audit report of North Carolina's Serology labs. Oops...

Problem is, oops doesn't cut it with this:

The new report outlines "serious issues" with the SBI's blood analysis unit's work between 1987 and 2003 in cases involving more than 269 people.

According to the new review, the cases involved SBI lab reports that were overstated, misleading or omitted important information about negative test results that would have been favorable to the defendants. The SBI's lab work is often powerful evidence in criminal cases, shaping decisions at the heart of a defense that include decisions about plea bargaining or how to cross examine witnesses.

Of the questioned cases, 80 of the defendants are still in prison, the report says.

Three of the defendants have been executed.

Four are on death row.

Five died in prison.
Ladies and gents...that's 8 people who have died. That's a problem. Most of the people who are "CSI" people are not scientists. They think of themselves as law enforcement and are approaching these tests to "prove" something, never to disprove it. The hallmark of science is the scientific method, which does exactly that...seeks to disprove things. Only after your hypothesis has stood up the rigorous crucible of cross-examination, have you scientifically proven something.

NC isn't the first to have this problem. There was a well-publicized scandal with San Francisco's crime lab that has resulted in hundreds of cases being dropped and thousands of convictions reviewed. NC won't be the last. So...the next time you see that slam-dunk case in your paper, realize it may not be what it seems. The scientific evidence is only as good as the science. And the science is only as good as the "scientist" conducting the science. You're going to continue to see this kind of stuff. Get used to it.

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