A 2009 Supreme Court ruling has had a significant impact on how some North Carolina criminal matters are processed. The case,Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts, requires lab technicians to present evidence in court, rather than by affidavit, in certain criminal trials.
What does this mean for Raleigh’s State Bureau of Investigation crime lab? The toxicologists who work for the lab spend nearly two and a half times more hours per year in court. The impact on the crime lab is felt in the length of time it now takes to process toxicology cases.
More than 750 felony drug cases have been delayed by the situation in the crime lab. Prosecutors and defendants cannot argue their positions until key evidence is processed and analyzed, which means a waiting game for everyone involved.
An additional complication is the number of toxicologists the crime lab is able to employ. With a rising number of cases and not enough toxicologists to do the work, the wait is growing longer. Nineteen new toxicologists will be hired in the future, but the hiring process can take about a year, and there is always the possibility that the new employees will be lured away by the higher pay of the private sector.
The significant delays by the crime lab have been an issue for quite some time, as we have previously discussed. While it is hoped that the hiring of a group of new toxicologists will speed up the time defendants must wait for their day in court, this may require systemic changes in addition to new employees.
Source: Fayobserver.com, “Backlog at State Bureau of Investigation lab hinders Cumberland County drug cases,” Caitlin Dineen, Aug. 20, 2013