Durham should privatize forensic analysis

Durham should leave behind a “broken system” and turn over forensic analysis to a private lab, rather than hiring State Bureau of Investigation analysts, said the chair of the Durham-Orange Libertarian Party.

“The purpose of a crime lab is to objectively analyze forensic evidence from a crime scene in order to produce an unbiased assessment of the facts,” wrote Jason Melehani in an op ed published in the Durham Herald-Sun. “Unfortunately, government-operated crime labs present a serious and direct conflict of interest in administering justice.”

Melehani noted that an independent investigation by two former FBI agents requested by state Attorney General Roy Cooper uncovered gross corruption in the SBI lab which lead to the execution of three innocent men. The investigation found more than 230 cases over a 16-year period that were manipulated unfairly to produce results intended to help secure convictions.

“Similar malfeasances have emerged in more than a dozen states across the country and represent an intrinsic problem of the system itself — a deep-seated conflict of interest,” he said.

Melehani said that forensic experts should be independent scientists, impartial to the results, not a team player for the attorney general’s office.

“Rather than continuing to buy into a broken system, Durham should contract with private labs to analyze their forensic evidence, following the lead of many other cities, including Dallas,” he said.

He cited a report published by Roger Koppl of the Reason Foundation which describes an ideal system for forensic analysis (CSI for real: How to improve forensics science). In this system, private forensic labs are selected through contract bids. Evidence is submitted to labs at random intervals and also submitted to a second lab for verification without informing the first.

“This would provide incentive for each lab to perform an accurate analysis of the evidence, not produce biased data for convictions,” Melehani said.

Although this plan would likely cost more upfront, Melehani said it would provide certainty that the forensic analysis presented in trial was free from coercion and bias and would maintain the integrity of the justice system.

“Ultimately, it is possible this approach would even save money by bringing cases to trial quicker, resulting in less time in county jails awaiting results from the SBI, and it would result in fewer incidences of wrongful conviction on the basis of bad data,” he added.