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Attorney General Stein is deeply concerned about addressing our criminal justice system’s shortcomings. That is why he is co-leading the state’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and why he works to ensure we achieve ‘equal justice under law.’

Mr. Ochsner’s recent story about the State Crime Lab’s testimony about its microscopic hair analysis conflates conversations and decisions that took place under previous administrations before Josh Stein was elected Attorney General. It also blurs the distinction between the science of microscopic hair analysis and the way scientists testify about it. The science is valid; the question is whether the scientists went beyond the limits of the science in their testimony. 

Over the past few years, the State Crime Lab has reviewed numerous microscopic hair analysis cases from as far back as the 1990s to ensure Lab analysts provided accurate testimony in accordance with science. To date, we have not found any case where a scientist’s improper testimony resulted in any wrongful conviction. If we did, we would act immediately.

With the Lab’s computer system, we can identify the specific cases that involved microscopic hair analysis starting in approximately 1990. To date, we have identified no concerns. The Lab’s computer system before 1990 is not comprehensive. Therefore, to review cases involving microscopic hair analysis before 1990 requires scientists to review paper files of every single case that the Lab analyzed, no matter what discipline was used, because the hair analysis cases are not segregated in paper files. Because approximately 1 percent of cases involved microscopic hair analysis at that time, this search is remarkably time consuming. There is no reason to believe, however, that the nature of testimony concerning microscopic hair analysis before 1990 would have been any different than after 1990, when our search found no problematic testimony.

If there is any case involving microscopic hair analysis testimony before 1990 that is of concern to Ms. Mumma, the Lab remains committed to reviewing it. Our office has extended that offer to Ms. Mumma on a number of occasions. Yet, she has yet to provide a single specific request. The Department of Justice continues to extend this offer, in addition to setting forth a plan to review these pre-1990 paper case files. Given the Lab’s resource challenges, this review is expected to take a great deal of time. 

Due to increasing case submissions from law enforcement to the Lab year after year, Attorney General Stein has asked the legislature for additional lab scientists for each of the past three  years. No funding for new scientists has been provided. As a result, it takes longer to test crime scene evidence, slowing down the justice system. Additional resources would enable the Lab to speed up the time it takes to turnaround its analysis of evidence. These existing resource constraints affecting current cases makes diverting resources for extra projects challenging – no matter how worthy they may be. 

We appreciate Sen. Warren Daniel’s recognition of the importance of the Department of Justice having sufficient resources to improve public safety in North Carolina, and we look forward to working with him and his colleagues to address this need. 

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