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Problems at NC State Crime Labs

Are North Carolina State Crime Labs Still Reliable With Low Pay and High Turnover? Mecklenburg Jail

There is a recent news story about problems faced by the State Crime Laboratory here in North Carolina. The Director, John Byrd, testified before a legislative committee that the lab is still facing serious problems with staff retention issues that reduce productivity and increase overall costs. Mr. Byrd admitted that the state crime labs simply “cannot compete with the salaries” that are offered in private laboratories. And in fact, he stated that this issue was the “biggest challenge” to his department. Another report released from a working group of district attorneys in conjunction with judges also focused on new strategies to reduce testing backlog. This group also characterized the salary problem as a “grave concern.” Here is how serious the problem really is. In just 10 months, from January 2010 through October 31, 36 lab scientists, or almost one third of the entire case team, left for “better employment.” While lower salaries may seem to save money, attrition rates can actually costs more in the long run as well as cause serious delays in processing evidence in cases. When cost projections were calculated, the group determined that North Carolina lost an estimated $4.1 million dollars to select, hire, train, and pay replacements for the 36 scientists who resigned. Despite these “stunning” facts, the legislature failed to include in the budget for a proposed bill to increase pay by just 10 percent. Even if this bill had been included, the proposed raise would still result in a substantial gap between public and private sector salaries. So where does that leave those charged with serious crimes in North Carolina?

Charlotte NC DWI Cases

Here is Mecklenburg County, DWI suspects who have blood draws have their sample tested by local medical facilities. It became a terrible situation for the State in that samples sent to the Raleigh State Crime Lab routinely took many months to be tested and for the results to be returned.  The problem was so bad that cases had to be dismissed for such long delays. Despite the long wait times, Charlotte NC DWI attorney Aaron Lee still prefers a state crime lab as opposed to just any medical facility. The procedural safeguards and respect for the criminal process are simply not the same in a private facility that tests blood samples for alcohol in one instance and then strep throat in the next batch. Also, there are still questions about making certain that all criminal tests are being performed by expertly trained staff and properly recorded. Only a state maintained lane should be trusted with this responsibility.  After all, a DWI is still a criminal charge with permanent ramifications. Every blood sample, whether the sample is from a DWI or a murder investigation, should be tested under the same strict requirements and protocols.

Breath Test vs. Blood Test Results

Virtually every Charlotte NC DWI attorney immediately questions breath test or “breathalyzer” results. Conversely, DWI lawyers routinely accept blood results seemingly without question. At a recent DUI conference, we were inspired to look at the empirical data associated with any blood testing to see if any errors in procedure or testing can be found. In the small urgent care medical facilities, we may be surprised to learn that unqualified personnel with little formal training often assist in preparing samples for testing. Here, the weakest link could be exposed and the ultimate results of the blood test could be challenged. It may also be fruitful to educate a jury through cross examination of lab witnesses just who and what is involved in blood alcohol testing. In the end, our shared goal is to make certain that the State has the evidence necessary and required to prove our clients guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If they fail on any part of their burden of proof, it is our job to make sure the judge or jury knows of this deficiency and hold the State to account.