Following the release of a devastatingly critical report on the shoddy work of North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) crime labs, Seth Edwards, the president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys today said he “supported a moratorium on the execution of any death-row inmates whose cases include evidence from the State Bureau of Investigations crime labs.”
The fallout from the audit of the SBI, combined with the fact that 152 death row inmates in NC are now challenging their death sentences under the new Racial Justice Act, paints a picture of criminal justice and capital punishment systems in chaos. And that may be a good thing. At least the Tar Heel state (unlike some states) has been somewhat willing to look critically at its systems of justice.
But this bout of self-examination should only be the beginning. The state’s investigation of the SBI was not comprehensive (only the serology lab was looked into; the SBI’s performance in other areas – fingerprints, DNA , ballistics, drug analysis, documents and digital – has yet to be reviewed). The Raleigh News and Observer’s recent hard hitting series provides some idea of what might be found if all those rocks were turned over. To their credit, NC DAs have demanded a full audit of the SBI.
Because executing someone wrongfully would be the ultimate injustice, it is imperative that NC take a second look at all death row cases, including those who have already been executed. Seth Edwards’ suggestion for a partial moratorium is fine, but really all executions should be halted. And really, they should be halted permanently.