NC State Crime Lab Toxicology Tests Backed Up

6:57 PM, Aug 12, 2013   |    comments
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When someone gets arrested for a DWI, you expect the legal system to react quickly. However, WFMY News 2 has learned that's not always happening here in our state. Right now, there are about 10,000 toxicology cases waiting to get processed by the State Crime Lab.

Blood work is often the prized piece of evidence in a DWI case. That's why prosecutors and even defense attorneys all over the state are frustrated the State Crime Lab has become so backed up. It's taking more than a year, in some cases, to get results back.

What happened? The number of toxicology cases has jumped 34 percent since 2008-2009. Plus, the state only has twelve people processing cases for the entire state. In addition, there's a relatively new federal law that allows defense attorneys to require toxicologists to appear in court when a DWI case goes to trial. As a result, toxicologists are spending much of their time in the courtroom instead of the laboratory. In 2011-2012, toxicologists spent more than 1500 hours in court.

"Individuals are working overtime to manage a situation over which, in most respects, we have no control. It certainly was not created by folks at the laboratory," NC State Crime Lab Director Joseph R. John, Sr. said.

You might think defense attorneys are taking advantage of the delays, but many are frustrated.

Just as blood work can lead to a conviction, it can also help clear someone's name. Plus, prosecutors can still move forward with a case even if the blood work isn't processed yet.

"They can prove it through other factors such as bad driving, stumbling, things like that, field sobriety tests. They don't need the blood tests to move forward with a DWI necessarily," Trial Attorney Michael Fradin said.

The State Crime Lab Director just received approval to hire 19 more toxicologists. Those extra people will help the system move faster, but it could take about a year to get everyone trained and hired.

However, private companies are hiring away the state's toxicologists, and paying them $20,000 more to do the same type of work.

One option might be to turn to private labs to help relieve some of the stress on the system. But, Assistant Guilford County District Attorney Howard Neumann said, "Private labs require fees to be paid to do the testing. Shortage of money is one reason we're in this predicament right now. There are no state funds available at this time to pay private labs to do it."

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