In 2011, the North Carolina legislature enacted a series of reforms designed to increase the accountability and accuracy of forensic evidence used in criminal trials. The Forensic Sciences Act of 2011 states that State Crime Lab analysts “shall be required to obtain individual certification consistent with international and ISO standards.” Many of the certification organizations post certified members on their websites (see below), so it is now easier to verify whether an expert is certified in their field.
After the law went into effect, a number of analysts attempted a certification exam and did not pass, sparking a wave of litigation seeking the information. In January 2012, State Crime Laboratory Director at the time released a memo to District Attorney offices disclosing that “some of the scientists were unsuccessful on the examination” although they would have an opportunity to retake the examinations. It was the position of the Lab that the results of the examinations were protected under the Personnel Privacy Act and would not be disclosed without a proper court order. The ensuing litigation that sought access to certification information could still serve as a template for requests for current information, if needed.
It is still a requirement that all State Crime Lab analysts maintain certification in their field when possible. When verifying that a state analyst has received certification, it is important that attorneys seek specific information that might not otherwise be discovered. For example, any analyst who fails an examination proctored by the American Board of Criminalistics will receive two letters. The first is a simple pass/fail letter while the second lists areas that should be studied before the analyst retakes the test. The second letter may be vitally important for defense attorneys seeking to challenge a witness’s qualifications, as it will note the specific areas where the analyst displayed deficient knowledge during examination.
Below are materials which might be helpful when seeking analyst certification information. Attorneys can contact IDS Forensic Resource Counsel Sarah Olson for additional assistance.
Two Sample Defense Motions
This motion contains one approach to requesting results of lab analyst’s certification exam. For this motion, attorneys should consider attaching Judge Gary M. Gavenus’s July 13, 2012 order, and the State’s Motion from June 12, 2012 in Buncombe County below as exhibits.
This sample motion contains a request for specific discovery, motion to preserve evidence and motion to produce for an in camera inspection by the court is another approach.
Buncombe County Certification Litigation Example
- State’s Motion – June 12, 2012 State’s Motion requesting information regarding State Crime Lab certification exams. No file stamped version is available.
- Notice and Order to Appear
- Order – Hearing has been continued to June 26, 2012 at 2 pm.
- Order Requiring Disclosure of Information to Each Prosecutorial District Within the State – Judge Gary M. Gavenus’s July 13, 2012 order requiring the State Crime Laboratory furnish to each District Attorney in the State the first and second letter containing the actual certification exam results and designated areas requiring further study.
- Memo from District Attorney Ron Moore – July 17, 2012 memo to defense attorneys regarding Judge Gavenus’s order.
- Letter from District Attorney Ron Moore – August 2, 2012 letter notifying defense attorneys who represented clients in approximately 80 resolved cases involving an analyst who was unsuccessful on his or her certifying exam. The letter specifies how information on analyst certification exam results will be provided based on Judge Gavenus’s order.
Additional Information on Analyst Certification
There are various organizations and professional boards that offer certifications for forensic scientists. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, Inc. is a program that assesses and monitors such organizations and professional associations to ensure that the certifications offered meet certain standards. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board is a project that was established with the support of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the National Forensic Science Technology Center and the National Institute of Justice. Their website contains a list of all accredited organizations.
It is important to note that while certification in a forensic discipline can be one indication of expertise, it is not a guarantee of accuracy for the analyst’s work. Similarly, while statute only demands that State Crime Laboratory analysts have certification, it might be worthwhile for attorneys to consider whether analysts from other labs are certified in their field or have attempted certification. Analysts from labs other than the State Crime Laboratory are not required by statute to be certified.
The organizations listed below have provided certifications for State Crime Lab analysts:
- The American Board of Criminalistics is certified by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.
- The American Board of Criminalistics has administered certification exams to the State Crime Lab analysts in the Forensic Biology, DNA, Drug Chemistry, Toxicology and Trace Evidence sections of the lab.
- A list of Certificate Holders can be found on the American Board of Criminalistics website.
- AFTE is not certified by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.
- AFTE certification requires a written and practical examination.
- AFTE offers certification in three areas: Firearm Evidence Examination and Identification, Toolmark Evidence Examination and Identification, and Gunshot Residue Evidence Examination and Identification.
- To be eligible for certification a firearms examiner must be at least a provisional member of AFTE. AFTE certification requirements are listed here.
- If an examiner is a provisional member of AFTE, there are additional qualifications required to apply for certification, including three years paid experience as a court qualified Firearms and/or Toolmark Examiner and training and experience must equate to two years of total experience as a Firearms and/or Toolmark Examiner. Qualifications for certification are listed here.
- If an applicant fails a written or practical part of the exam, she must wait one year before retesting in that area.
- A list of certified analysts can be found here.
- IAI is not certified by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.
- IAI membership requirements are listed here.
- The IAI offers certifications in several forensic specialties, including Latent Print Certification and Digital Evidence. Latent Print Certification has a technical training requirement, basic experience requirement (two years full time experience in the comparison and identification of latent print material or the equivalent part time experience), and educational requirements. IAI certification requirements can be found here.
- IAI lists its “Certified Roster” for various forensic specialties on its website. Certified Latent Print Examiners are listed here.
The International Association for Identification (IAI), the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) and the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners each offer different types of certifications for digital evidence examiners. At the NC State Crime Laboratory, digital examiners each have one or more of these certifications.