The right to a speedy trial is one of our most basic constitutional rights, and it ensures that defendants are protected from delay in the beginning of trials. If a judge finds that the prosecution has delayed too long in bringing their case to trial, the case will be dismissed and all charges will be dropped.
Of course, improper delays are rare, and they usually only result from unusual circumstances. But recently, an unusually large number of North Carolina drunk driving cases have been dismissed due to unreasonable delay. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, a North Carolina state crime lab is to blame.
State crime labs perform a wide variety of functions, though one of their most common tasks is the testing of blood-alcohol samples. An officer will require a blood-alcohol screening when a driver refuses to take a Breathalyzer test, or when the driver has been incapacitated and is unable to take the breath test. In these cases, the blood samples are sent to the state crime lab for analysis. Often, the results from these tests are instrumental in determining innocence or guilt in a DWI case.
Tests sent to the Greensboro state crime lab, however, are not coming back. The lab has an enormous backlog of tests and does not currently have enough staff members to process them. Lab administrators say many of their technicians have recently left for higher-paying jobs, and they are having trouble filling the positions.
As a result of the delays, dozens of DWI cases have been dismissed in recent months, and it is unclear for how long the situation will continue. As always, defense attorneys involved in such cases should pay close attention to any trial delays to ensure that their clients’ right to a speedy trial are not infringed upon.
Source: Winston-Salem Journal, “Delay in blood testing has created major backlog of DWI cases” Michael Hewlett, Aug. 10, 2013