Delays at North Carolina’s State Crime Laboratory Lead to Case Dismissals
Did you know that there have been lengthy delays at North Carolina’s State Crime Laboratory? The waiting period for test results has been so lengthy that prosecutors have dismissed criminal cases. Local news sources suggest that a budget reduction and fewer lab employees have resulted in at least a yearlong delay in criminal cases.
REASONS FOR DELAYS
According to The Herald Sun, multiple factors are contributing to the problem. First, caseloads are increasing, which means more lab submissions. The North Carolina State Attorney General’s office notes the crime lab has witnessed a 19 percent increase in toxicology submissions over the last two years.
Second, since the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Melendez-Diaz, analysts are required to testify in person in court. They cannot simply submit reports.
The toxicology lab, which tests for alcohol or drugs in blood, has 12 working toxicologists. These analysts are required to testify in superior court cases matters concerning driving while impaired. In 2009, analysts spent 692.5 hours in court, and after the 2009 Supreme Court ruling, that number skyrocketed to 2,368.5 hours in 2010.
The facility’s director indicates that the lab’s current budget is $13.3 million, which is down from $13.6 million. As a result, over the past couple of years, the crime lab staff decreased from 130 to 124. This has inevitably added to lengthy waiting periods.
How does all this affect criminal defendants’ cases? In one DWI case from Haywood County, prosecutors waited six months for test results. They also waited an additional eight months to secure testimony from a lab analyst. This delay led to a case dismissal.
In a different matter out of Forsyth County, a court concluded that a 14-month delay, the defendant’s requests to be tried from an early period in the proceedings and prejudice experienced by the accused throughout the delay resulted in a violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROTECTIONS
Ultimately, defendants are entitled to specific criminal justice protections as they confront any charges against them. If these rights are not safeguarded, those accused of crimes may suffer serious consequences.
North Carolina’s crime lab delays are resulting in many case continuances. These lengthy waiting periods may be stripping defendants of important constitutional protections. For this reason, if your case is hindered by such delays, you may want to speak with an experienced criminal law attorney about available legal options.