Recommendations of the Ombudsman to the SBI

The NC Attorney General’s Office has released the Report of the Ombudsman, completed by Judge Vince Rozier, Jr. prior to leaving that position. The Ombudsman’s report is preceded by a memo from the Acting North Carolina State Crime Lab Director Joseph R. John, Sr. responding to the report’s recommendations.

A few of the recommendations that stood out include the following:

  1. Publish past protocols and procedures of the SBI lab, in addition to the current procedures (see p. 13). While the current procedures for most sections of the lab have been posted on the NCDOJ’s website, historical procedures have not been posted, despite the recommendations of the Swecker Report from August 2010.
  2. Make clear where standards have been modified and include former and current status of the standard (see p. 13-14). To demonstrate the importance of denoting changes, Rozier points to a 2008 Administrative Order that changed the standard for what conclusions can be drawn regarding minor profiles in DNA mixtures. (Prior to the 2008 order, if a DNA sample contained more than one person’s profile, analysts could report that the defendant “cannot be excluded as the contributor to the minor allele” if the defendant’s DNA was observed as a minor profile at a minimum number of locations. The new standard requires analysts to state “no conclusion can be rendered as to the donor of the minor profile” if the same results are observed.) Attorneys should be made aware of changes to procedures regarding interpretation of results and acceptable conclusions and should be aware of which standard is being used in their case.
  3. Along this line, Rozier recommends that prior to court, analysts review any difference in the reporting language used at the time the test was performed and the current standard (see p. 24-25). Further, he recommends that where reporting language has been modified, analysts provide the most current reporting standard during their testimony in court (however, the lab’s current practice is for analysts to testify according to the reporting language in place at the time the test was performed) (see p. 25). An attorney who is aware of a change in reporting standard may be able to question the basis for an analyst’s conclusion that is based on an outdated reporting standard. (For example, consider how the lab’s standard for reporting (or not reporting) the results of negative confirmatory tests for blood has changed and the importance of understanding which standard is being used.)
  4. Rozier also recommended that a group of criminal justice stakeholders be formed to review the Evidence Submission Form (SBI-5) to ensure the form promotes neutrality (see p. 19-20).

This is just a handful of the recommendations that I found to be significant. I welcome posts in the comments section about these or other recommendations.

Yesterday, the News and Observer article Long delays in SBI reforms stirs critics covered this report and responses to recent announcements by the Attorney General regarding the Crime Lab.

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