This is the third in a three-part series on lab accreditation, analyst certification, and ISO-compliant lab procedures by Ryan Niland.
In response to concerns about the failures of the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory (formerly known as the SBI lab), North Carolina passed the Forensic Sciences Act (FSA) in 2011. Among other things, the FSA requires that for a report to be admissible in court without the testimony of the analyst, it must be produced by a lab accredited by an accrediting body which is a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Testing.
ASCLD/LAB’s traditional accreditation program, sometimes referred to as its “Legacy Program,” does not use ILAC standards. Consequently, in September 2012, the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory adopted and posted new lab procedures on its website in order to seek additional lab accreditation according to ILAC standards. ILAC requires forensic laboratories to follow procedures set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
ISO is an organization that develops international standards in many areas, including management, food safety, and nearly all mass-produced products. Forensic labs seeking ISO accreditation must follow the procedures in ISO 17025, which contains general requirements for all testing and calibration laboratories. ILAC has produced guidelines (ILAC G19) for laboratories applying ISO 17025 procedures in a forensic context. ISO 17025 and ILAC G19 set out general principles that labs must adhere to, but each lab that seeks ISO accreditation will have its own procedures interpreting these standards. The UN has put together an excellent guidebook on complying with ISO 17025 available here.
All state lab tests performed after September 17, 2012 should follow the new lab procedures. Analysts at the lab report that the greatest procedural changes occurred in the Forensic Biology/DNA and Drug Analysis/Toxicology sections, as well as in how documentation is kept. The lab procedures for tests administered prior to September 17, 2012 have been removed from the lab’s website. Attorneys should contact the lab to obtain copies of the older procedures, or they can contact the Forensic Resource Counsel for assistance.
The North Carolina State Crime Lab accepted public comment on the new lab procedures, and independent experts provided a number of critiques regarding the new procedures. The critiques included questions about the lab’s forensic biology testing procedures, DNA analysis interpretation guidelines, drug sampling protocols, and results statements used in fingerprint comparisons. The Forensic Resource Counsel has copies of many of these comments and can provide them to you and discuss with you how they may relate to the analysis performed in your case.