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According to recent and very troubling report out of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, drug cases in the area are met with a 6-8 month delay in the lab. The county lab is located in Clayton and services every police department in the county, a few federal agencies, and the Major Case Squad. The problem appears to be too much work and too few resources to handle it.

In 2009, the St. Louis lab tested 716 drug cases. This year, so far, they’ve analyzed 2,989 cases. That represents an alarming jump, and the year is only slightly more than halfway done. The influx of cases can partially be tied to increasing enforcement by police who are interested in cracking down on drug crimes. Also, the staff of the lab has been cut due to budget issues which is putting strain on those left behind.

Though increasing the staff is the long-term goal, in the meantime, officials have asked prosecutors to only order tests on cases they actually plan to prosecute. Previously, every suspected drug confiscated by local law enforcement would come through the lab, this despite the fact that prosecutors typically do not pursue charges in 40% of the cases. The wasted tests represented an enormous and unnecessary expenditure of both time and money.

Officials have said they are also considering field test kits for police. Lab tests would still be needed, but a field test would be enough probable cause to go forward with charges while they wait for confirmation from the lab. This would allow defendants to get into treatment or discuss a plea bargain in the meantime, rather than be held in limbo while out on bond.

The problem is unfortunately not just a local one. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released the results of a 2009 national survey of publicly funded crime labs. Their findings were very worrisome for those whose future rests on the results of the tests:

• During 2009, the 411 federal, state, county and municipal labs operating that year received over 4 million requests for a wide range of forensic services. • At the end of 2009, the nation’s publicly funded crime labs had an estimated backlog of 1.2 million requests for forensic services, which was relatively unchanged from the backlog at yearend 2008. • Of the 1,153,700 backlogged requests at the end of 2009, “forensic biology” (mostly DNA) was the main driver, with 494,400 offender/arrestee samples waiting to be processed, and 399,300 backlogged requests relating to investigating criminal cases. That’s 77.5% of crime lab backlogs attributed to “forensic biology.” Controlled substance testing registered the third largest portion of the backlog, with 121,800 pending requests.

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 advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis criminal defense law firm today at (314) 863-0500.

Source: “Crime Lab Backup Hinders Missouri Drug War,” by Christine Byers, published at Officer.com.

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