Audit concludes 230 cases investigated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation were tainted.
The North Carolina justice system shook Wednesday as an audit commissioned by Attorney General Roy Cooper revealed that the State Bureau of Investigation withheld or distorted evidence in more than 200 cases at the expense of potentially innocent men and women.
The full impact of the disclosure will reverberate for years to come as prosecutors and defense attorneys re-examine cases as much as two decades old to figure out whether these errors robbed defendants of justice. Some of the injustices can be addressed as attorneys bring old cases back to court. For others, it's too late: Three of the defendants in botched cases have been executed.
As an example, defendants were routinely given the results of unsophisticated (A, B, O, AB) blood tests, but as a matter of Bureau policy, they were not given the results of more sophisticated tests that might have led to exoneration. The SBI held onto those results because, well, who needed them anyway?
Of course there's no evidence that any of the three men who've already been executed and whose cases are mentioned in the audit, weren't actually guilty. We aren't going to be given the findings in their specific cases. Because they're dead. What good would clearing a dead man do? He's still dead. Finality of judgments is an important procedural value. The United States Supreme Court has said so.
And it's not as though most of the defendants involved were convicted of important crimes, like murder. While the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation doesn't handle petty crimes, there are plenty of non-capital felonies, which are simply punished by years of imprisonment, that the SBI routinely handles.
But in the words of a great policeman, "There's just … one more thing that's bothering me."
The News & Observer reported this month in a series, "Agents' Secrets," that analysts across the laboratory push past the accepted bounds of science to deliver results pleasing to prosecutors. They are out of step with the larger scientific community and have fought defense attorneys' requests for additional information needed to review the SBI's work. Cooper last month dismissed SBI Director Robin Pendergraft after she struggled to answer questions about SBI cases and policies.
This audit focused only on the SBI's record of handing over exonerative evidence. The scientific methodology its crime lab employs wasn't the the topic of the audit. That will have to wait for another day.
Still, they were probably all guilty, of something.