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North Carolina crime lab faces severe backlog of DWI tests

When a person has been accused of DWI, often a key piece of evidence at the trial is the results of a blood-alcohol screening. Usually this comes in the form of a Breathalyzer test, which produces results immediately. But in some cases, evidence is taken in the form of a blood test, which provides more accurate readings. Frequently, the blood-alcohol reading from this test is the deciding factor between an innocent and a guilty verdict.

Unfortunately, many North Carolina residents are being forced to wait too long for the results of their blood-alcohol tests, due to a major backlog at one regional crime laboratory. The state crime lab at Greensboro, which serves 12 counties, has recently been causing severe delays in drunk driving proceedings due to extremely slow processing speeds. Blood testing in the lab has slowed to a near halt, forcing those accused of DWI to wait long periods before their trial can commence.

This is problematic for a number of reasons; chief among them is the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial. Those who have been accused of a crime have a right to face the charges in an expeditious manner. Prosecutors are often unwilling or unable to make their case without the blood test evidence; therefore, long waits have become the norm in many cases. Some cases have already been thrown out due to an overly-long delay; Forsyth County alone recently threw out 90 DWI cases in which the blood evidence never came back from the crime lab.

The crime lab says the backlog is due to understaffing; recently, many of their analysts have left to seek higher paying jobs in the private sector. This has left just one blood analyst currently working at the lab. Authorities hope to hire new employees in the coming weeks.

The ability to receive a speedy trial is one of our most basic and fundamental rights. Defendants should not have to wait long months to defend themselves in a court of law. Those who feel this right has been infringed upon should speak to their defense attorney about having the case thrown out.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal, "Delay in blood testing has created major backlog of DWI cases" Michael Hewlett, Aug. 10, 2013

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