The NC State Crime Laboratory has put into place a change to its Document Management Policy that should help criminal defense attorneys of record who wish to speak to the persons at the Crime Lab who have worked on their client’s case(s). The new procedure states:
220.127.116.11 Once a Case Record has been finalized, the employee may discuss the results of the examination and the record contents with the above listed individuals and the attorney of record for the defendant. Verification of the defendant’s attorney of record must be performed prior to release of any information by asking for the following information and recording it in the communication log: attorney’s name, agency or firm, phone number and/or email address, defendant’s name, and either the Agency or Laboratory case number.
This updated policy has been distributed to all Lab personnel. The Lab adopted this procedure to formalize their existing practice and to address communications issues brought to the attention of Ombudsman Sarah Jessica Farber in meetings with members of the defense bar. The opportunity to speak to a lab analyst prior to trial is invaluable to understanding the analysis performed in a case. All attorneys should take advantage of this opportunity!
As always, people can access the Crime Laboratory policies and procedures via the Sharepoint. Persons who do not have a login will need to create a free Microsoft account in order to do so, and can begin the process by sending an email to ISO@ncdoj.gov with “Request to Access Procedures” in the Subject line.
In 2018, the NC General Assembly passed legislation (S.L. 2018-70) requiring the creation of the a statewide tracking system to track the testing of Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECKs) from collection to completion of forensic testing. The tracking system is now available for all stakeholders in the criminal justice system.
For kits collected on or after Oct. 1, 2018, the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Tracking and Information Management System (STIMS), can be accessed to know where the kit is, in whose custody, whether the kit has reached the lab, and whether or not it has been tested—useful information for all participants in the investigation and court proceedings.
The system is easy to use: just visit the STIMS online portal, enter the serial number of the kit you wish to check in the system, and the tracking information will be returned in moments. The serial number of the kit is found on the box itself. The number may contain several leading zeroes—these may be included or omitted. Defense counsel will need to request the serial number of the kit from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office. Attorneys should be aware that the online system does not report the results of the testing, only the tracking information. Results of laboratory analysis are available through the discovery process.
The NC Attorney General’s Office has put together a series of instructional videos on the STIMS systems for various users:
Overview: A general overview of STIMS, why it was created, as well as applicable law and legislative history.
Survivor User: Covers how to enter the serial numbers and how to read the results page.
These videos may be useful to know how the data is entered and how the kits are tracked through the chain of custody:
Law Enforcement User Training Video
Crime Laboratory User Training Video
Do you know how to access the lab procedures for the NC State Crime Laboratory? It is important for attorneys to review these procedures so that they understand how the laboratory evidence in their case was analyzed.
The method for accessing lab procedures changed in 2018. Previously, there were links to the current lab procedures on the State Crime Lab’s ISO Procedures webpage. Now, the Lab has placed the documents on a SharePoint site to provide access to both current and historical/archived procedures.
To access the procedures, an attorney should follow these steps (which are also described on the Lab’s website):
- Email the Lab (click and an email will open in a new window).
- The Lab will reply to your email, sending you a link to access to the policies and procedures via the SharePoint site.
- Access to the SharePoint site requires an active Microsoft account. If you do not have one, you may create one for free during the login process.
- If you have previously been granted access, you may use this link to access the site: Crime Laboratory Policies and Procedures.
In my experience, the Lab responds quickly to these requests during business hours, but depending on one’s familiarity with using a SharePoint site, it may take a little longer to learn to navigate this system. Also, because a request and a reply is needed, attorneys should request this access now, before they have a pressing need for immediate access.
As with any change, there is a learning curve, but this change is an improvement for the defense bar because it allows access to archived procedures. The Lab regularly updates its procedures, so it is important to understand both the procedure in effect at the time the evidence was tested, and the current procedure, if there has been a change.
The IDS Forensic website has posted the toxicology lab procedures from the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner here. Attorneys who would like to learn more about the procedures that the OCME toxicology lab uses to test evidence can read through the procedures.
For casework, attorneys should obtain the lab procedures that were in effect at the time that the evidence in their case was worked. Those procedures can be requested through discovery. The information posted on the IDS Forensic website should be used for general information purposes only and to give attorneys an idea of what procedures are available.
The NC State Crime Laboratory and NC Office of Indigent Defense Services will offer a free to attend CLE on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, that is designed to enhance the knowledge of criminal defense attorneys and criminal defense investigators. The program will be held at the NC Judicial Center, 901 Corporate Center Drive, Raleigh, NC. Senior forensic scientists from the State Crime Lab will present updates and key information about the analysis of physical evidence in the disciplines of Forensic Biology (DNA), DNA Database, Firearms, and Latent Evidence.
Following these presentations, the speakers will address questions from attorneys. Due to the confidential nature of casework, questions about specific cases will not be answered. Attorneys can schedule a meeting at the State Crime Lab to discuss the case with the analyst. Attendees may submit questions ahead of time using the registration form or by emailing email@example.com.
The program is approved for 2.5 hours of general CLE credit. Attorneys receiving CLE credit will be billed $3.50 per credit hour by the NC State Bar. Non-attorneys who wish to receive continuing education credit may use this program agenda to apply for their own credit.
Program agenda: http://www.ncids.com/forensic/resources/sept28.pdf
September 28, 2018
8:30-9:00 AM Sign-in (Coffee and light snack provided)
9:00-10:30 AM Presentations by the Forensic Biology (DNA), and DNA Database Sections of the NC State Crime Laboratory
10:30-11:30 AM Presentations by the Firearm and Tool Mark and Latent Evidence Sections of the NC State Crime Laboratory
- John Byrd, State Crime Laboratory Director
- David Freehling, Forensic Scientist Manager, Physical Evidence Section (Raleigh)
- Jennifer Slish, Forensic Scientist Supervisor, Firearms Unit (Physical Evidence Section, Raleigh)
- Zach Kallenbach, Forensic Scientist Manager, DNA Database Section (Raleigh)
- Karen W. Morrow, Forensic Scientist Manager, Latent Evidence Section (Raleigh)
- Jody H. West, Forensic Scientist Manager, Forensic Biology Section (Raleigh)
The NC State Crime Lab is conducting a customer satisfaction survey. The survey will be open until Aug. 31, 2018. Filling out the survey will allow the NC State Crime Lab to get feedback on your interactions with them over the past year.
The survey is short and should not take much time to complete. It contains questions about Forensic Update, Forensic Advantage, and about the quality of interactions with the lab itself. You can fill out the survey using this link.
The North Carolina State Crime Laboratory has shared its current and archived/historical procedures with IDS, which will facilitate attorney access to these procedures and improves transparency in how evidence is tested and processed in the Lab. Attorneys who need access to the lab procedures in their cases now have several options to locate these procedures.
Current lab procedures are available from the Crime Lab at http://www.ncdoj.gov/About-DOJ/Crime-Lab/ISO-Procedures.aspx.
IDS previously placed many of the archived procedures online at http://www.ncids.com/forensic/labs/labs.asp. However, this IDS online library of archived procedures may have gaps as there are now over 4,000 archived procedures. If you need an archived lab procedure that you cannot find on the IDS website, you can email Sarah Olson at Sarah.R.Olson@nccourts.org for access to the procedures that the Crime Lab shared recently.
Finally, lab procedures may be requested through discovery.
When reading lab procedures in order to better understand how evidence was tested in a case, attorneys should be mindful to refer to the procedures that were in place at the time that the lab tested case evidence.