Category Archives: Crime Labs

New lab procedure to facilitate communication between attorneys and lab analysts

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:

4.6.1.1  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.

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Sexual Assault Kit Tracking Now Available

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

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How do I find NC State Crime Laboratory procedures?

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):

  1. Email the Lab (click and an email will open in a new window).
  2. The Lab will reply to your email, sending you a link to access to the policies and procedures via the SharePoint site.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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OCME Toxicology Lab Procedures available

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.

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Open Forum with the NC State Crime Laboratory

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 sarah.r.olson@nccourts.org.

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

Registration: https://goo.gl/forms/20zNrZk7LuIHT0kp2

 

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

Presenters:

  • 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)

 

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NC State Crime Laboratory Customer Satisfaction Survey

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.

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Accessing NC State Crime Laboratory Procedures

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.

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NC State Crime Laboratory welcomes new Ombudsman

Sarah Jessica Farber is the new Ombudsman to the NC State Crime Laboratory. As Ombudsman, her job responsibilities include addressing public concerns about the Crime Lab and making recommendations to the Attorney General about any changes needed at the Crime Lab. The Ombudsman serves as a liaison with all criminal justice system actors and is available to defense attorneys who have questions or feedback about the lab. More information about the role of the Ombudsman is available here.

Prior to joining the Crime Lab, Farber served as a magistrate in Wake County. Earlier in her career, she worked as a criminal defense attorney, both with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and with her own private practice. She can be reached at sfarber@ncdoj.gov.

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Houston in the Blind

Blind studies and procedures are the gold standard of evaluating the quality and reliability of scientific results. Unfortunately, this has long been lacking in forensic science. Fortunately, strides are being made to introduce blind testing to forensics, most notably in the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC).

Currently, forensic scientists are tested periodically on their knowledge and ability through proficiency tests. However, scientists typically are aware they are completing a proficiency test and not case work. This allows for the Hawthorne effect to play a role in the testing, or the phenomena of a person behaving differently when they know they are being observed. Blind testing in forensic science will allow for blind samples to be included with case work in a manner that scientists cannot distinguish between a blind and a real case. This will help distinguish whether or not a laboratory adheres to guidelines and whether best practices are used in a day-to-day setting, as opposed to simply during an anticipated exam.

This article describes the efforts of Dr. Peter Stout, the HFSC’s chief executive officer (and former member of the NC Forensic Science Advisory Board), to implement a “blinds program.” So far, 329 blind samples have been integrated into normal casework in the firearms, toxicology, DNA, fingerprint, and digital forensic sections of the lab. In 2018, the lab plans to grow the program to 800 blind tests per year, or 5 percent of the lab’s workload.

Disguising a blind as a case sample is not a simple task, as the Forensic Magazine article describes. In addition to the challenge of creating a case submission that appears authentic, another particularly challenging aspect has been determining whether the blind samples could be searched in databases like AFIS, NIBIN, and CODIS.

At the HFSC, no errors have yet been reported in the testing of a blind. Use of blind tests will allow the lab to begin reporting error rates and confidence intervals, which will strengthen the testimony of analysts and allow them to answer questions about reliability of their work.

If you’ve made it this far in the post and are still wondering about the title, “Houston, in the blind” refers to a phrase used by astronauts when they aren’t receiving any response from ground control. The phrase indicates that they will continue to communicate, not knowing if ground control is receiving their message. My hope for forensic science is that communications about blind testing will not be “in the blind.”

 

 

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Open Forum with the NC State Crime Laboratory

On Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, the NC State Crime Laboratory and NC Office of Indigent Defense Services will offer a free CLE for criminal defense attorneys and criminal defense investigators. A Forensic Science Manager from each Section of the State Crime Laboratory (including Digital Evidence, DNA Database, Drug Chemistry, Firearm and Tool Mark, Forensic Biology, Latent Evidence, Toxicology, and Trace Evidence) will present an overview of the procedures for testing evidence in her Section of the lab. These presentations will address evidence submission procedures, what type of evidence is tested, what scientific techniques and instruments are used, and reporting/testimony language.

Following these presentations, there will be a panel discussion. The leader of each section will explain evidence preservation and the order of evidence processing. The presenters will discuss proficiency testing, quality control, and the limitations of the testing performed by their section.

In the final session, 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. Attorneys may submit questions ahead of time using the registration form or by emailing sarah.r.olson@nccourts.org.

Attorneys receiving CLE credit will be billed $3.50 per credit hour by the NC State Bar. 2.5 hours of general CLE credit is anticipated. Non-attorneys who wish to receive continuing education credit may use this program agenda to apply for their own credit. The program will take place at the NC Judicial Center, 901 Corporate Center Drive, Raleigh, NC (http://www.nccourts.org/Courts/CRS/AOCAdmin/AOCMove/Directions.asp).

Program website: http://www.ncids.com/forensic/resources/oct13.pdf
Program registration is available here: https://goo.gl/forms/cVm3zFSB08fDH6L63

October 13, 2017

8:30-9:00 AM     Sign-in (Coffee and light snack provided)

9:00-10:00 AM   Presentations by each Section of the NC State Crime Laboratory

10:00-11:00 AM Panel Discussion with the NC State Crime Laboratory

11:00-11:30 AM Q&A with the NC State Crime Laboratory

Presenters:

  • Georgana Baxter, Western Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Drug Chemistry Section
  • Johnathan Dilday, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Advantage Manager/Deputy Assistant Director
  • Ann C. Hamlin, Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Drug Chemistry Section
  • Joshua Hickman, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Digital Evidence Section
  • Zach Kallenbach, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, DNA Database Section
  • Frank Wayne Lewallen, Triad Regional Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Supervisor, Drug Chemistry/Toxicology Section
  • Karen W. Morrow, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Latent Evidence Section
  • Elizabeth Patel, Triad Regional Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager
  • Jennifer L. Remy, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Physical Evidence Section
  • Timothy Suggs, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager (Quality Manager)
  • Jody H. West, Raleigh Crime Laboratory, Forensic Scientist Manager, Forensic Biology Section

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