As much as the public and politicians hate to hear it, forensic examinations are expensive. They throw money at the system, and expect instant results. The problem is, that in order for a crime lab to increase output, they need to train new employees. In the short term, this reduces the amount of evidence the lab can process, because seasoned examiners are removed from casework, and are asked to train new employees.
Once the lab starts to “catch up”, now the submitting agencies see that the lab can process evidence even faster, so they start to send in more evidence. On top of that, juries now expect more and more forensic evidence in trials. “What’s that. He confessed and the crime is on surveillance video. The police found a store receipt for the gun used that shows the defendant bought the gun earlier that day? But they didn’t do DNA testing on all the cigarette butts in the parking lot out front of the bar — NOT GUILTY!”
There are several things that need to be done to reduce crime lab backlogs.
1) Use private labs as stop-gap measures for sudden spikes in backlog, or while new employees need to be trained.
2) Educate investigators not to submit everything.
3) Require prosecutors offices to PAY for additional work they want analyzed. Suggest they go to private labs, so that the public labs don’t get their backlogs increased for little more reason than to make a prosecutor feel more secure when going to trial (a nice soft blanket could provide the same comfort, and be much cheaper).
4) Educate the public, starting in high schools, about forensic science. Let them know that “CSI” TV shows are realistic, and that not every piece of evidence needs to be forensically examined in order for there not to be “reasonable doubt.”
Members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee have sent a letter to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan demanding a plan to eliminate the backlog.
In a joint letter, the Democratic co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee and the Committee’s lead Republican members have directed Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan to develop a plan to eliminate the backlog at the state crime lab.
Sen. Bill Diamond, a Windham Democrat who co-chairs the committee, says the backlog has persisted for too long.
“That backlog’s been going on now for several years, she’s now proposing that the director position be brought to less than full-time, so if that’s the case, how are we going to deal with the backlog?” he says. “Now, the backlog really is evidence, it’s hard evidence sitting there in the closet.”
Diamond says in an agency as large as the Department of Public Safety, he does not believe there are too few resources to address an issue the Legislature has made a priority — the investigation and prosecution of child sex offenders. Diamond says the panel is tired of excuses, and wants answers.
Read the article on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
No related posts.