North Carolina Human Resources Commission Makes Huge Mistake in the Case of Duane Deaver

A Big Mistake in the Case of a Terminated SBI Analyst

I take a great deal of pride in my law firm. We might not be the biggest or the most well-known in town, but I like to think that we have a good reputation for dealing with our clients fairly. Every member of the staff understands that every case is important in its own way, from simple speeding tickets right on up to the serious felonies. However, even though relatively low-level offenses have the potential to have profound and far-reaching consequences on a person’s life, there is no arguing that the potential for a long-term prison sentence is one of the most dire outcomes an individual can face in the criminal justice system. When someone is looking at spending decades of their life behind bars, upholding that person’s due process rights should be of the utmost concern for everyone involved in the case. Unfortunately, the danger of tunnel vision can affect the work of criminal justice professionals and it can result in some devastating repercussions for innocent people accused of crimes.

Among jurors, forensic evidence is generally considered to hold the most weight when it comes to determining guilt and innocence. Due to the pivotal role that such evidence can play in a criminal trial, it is imperative that forensic analysts examine the evidence as objectively as they can. Most criminal forensic evidence in North Carolina is processed by one of the State Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Labs. In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed some controversies surrounding the operation of the SBI Crime Labs, namely that it is organized in such a way to encourage bias in favor of prosecutors and that its analysts are underpaid and overworked. Today, I want to call attention to some rather infuriating news regarding disreputable former analyst Duane Deaver.

Deaver worked for the SBI Crime Lab as a blood stain analyst for 25 years and he was fired after a 2010 investigation revealed that he had obscured or falsified test results on samples he had been given to analyze. Deaver fought his termination, alleging that it was in violation of SBI procedure, and in September, I reported that an administrative law judge had upheld Deaver being cut lose from the SBI Crime Lab. Deaver kept on pursuing the sort of justice for himself that he denied to defendants and he took his case to the state Human Resources Commission to be heard. Because Duane Deaver had so egregiously misused his position while he worked for the SBI, I was fairly confident that nothing would come from this appeal. I’m the type of person who tries to admit when they are wrong, and I have rarely been more flabbergasted at a mistaken assumption as I am now. Earlier this month, the Human Resources Commission declared that Deaver had been wrongly fired, and the former analyst was awarded almost 30 months of back pay. The panel which presided over Deaver’s cases stated that the correct course of action when dealing with Deaver would have been a 10% pay cut and a demotion.

This is my tax money at work. I mean, sure, we have a State that has cut the public education budget to the bone and refuses to properly fund indigent defense (thereby making it harder for poor people to get a fair shake in criminal court), but let’s make sure that a disgraced SBI analyst gets his pay. The fact that this panel deemed the correct penalty for Deaver’s actions to be a demotion and a mere 10% paycut makes me seriously question the priorities of the panel members. Duane Deaver absolutely, unequivocally deserved to be fired for the role he played in the 2010 SBI Crime Lab scandal. He didn’t just make a simple mistake; over the course of sixteen years, Deaver and analysts trained by him distorted evidence or test results for roughly 230 cases. As a direct result of Deaver’s deceptive reporting practices, Greg Taylor was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 17 years in prison before being exonerated. The State of North Carolina settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit from Mr. Taylor to the tune of $4.6 million. How could anyone in their right minds think that a pattern of deceit that cost an innocent man years of his life could be addressed by a paycut and demotion?

This may be one of the very few times that I am grateful that bureaucracy is such a slow moving beast, because the fact that the SBI has an opportunity to appeal this ruling is the only thing keeping my blood pressure from rising to dangerous levels.There is not a doubt in my mind that the Human Resources Commission came to the wrong conclusion in Duane Deaver’s case, and one of the few good things to come out of the SBI Crime Lab debacle of four years ago was Deaver’s firing. I hope for the sake of justice that his termination is upheld.