According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, the problems at North Carolina’s State Crime Laboratory are growing worse, something that has prosecutors and defendants alike waiting for results and worrying about the future.
The lab director, Joseph R. John Sr., says that an increase in evidence submitted for testing has magnified problems caused by the already tight budget and is responsible for the long wait times common these days. The lab’s budget is only $13.3 million, down from $13.6 million. Money is tight and the numbers are down. Since 2009-10, the crime lab staff has dropped to 124 from 130. Shockingly, there are only 12 toxicologists for the entire state, compared with some 20,000 law enforcement officers.
The strain is being felt in terms of active cases that have been held up by the delayed analysis. Driving-while-impaired cases are frequently being continued while prosecutors wait for test results. Just this month, prosecutors in Haywood County dismissed a DWI case against a man with two prior convictions. Prosecutors say they waited six months for the test results and another eight trying to get the former analyst who performed the test to testify in court. Apparently the analyst who did the testing quit at some point after performing the test and would not accept subpoenas sent via certified mail. Without the analyst, prosecutors could not use the results of the blood test and the case was dropped.
Though it may seem hard to believe given the enormous workload waiting on them back the office, many lab workers find themselves increasingly pulled away to testify at trials. The reason is because of a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that required the person doing the blood testing to take the stand if the defense objects to the admission of the test results. The number of court hours, including travel, for forensic toxicologists in Raleigh grew from just less than 700 hours in 2009 to more than 2,400 hours in 2010.
John said the North Carolina General Assembly has authorized a study looking at expanding the Asheville crime lab and he has pressed that the group be given more money to adequately perform its critical function.
The problem is a big one as defendants have a constitutional right to a speedy trial and if an accused person cannot afford to post bail, long delays in processing evidence lead to a protracted period waiting in jail for a trial. Defendants whose rights are compromised by a long wait to process evidence may even feel compelled to plea bargain and accept responsibility for crimes they did not commit, just to hurry the process along and get out of jail sooner.
In circumstances like these, individuals accused of crimes need the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The North Carolina criminal defense lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC will provide you with the best possible defense for you. You can contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today by calling (704) 370-2828.
“NC courts wait because of crime lab cutbacks,” by The Associated Press, published at CharlotteObserver.com.
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