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Crime lab backlog delays evidence for up to two years

By Valentina Wilson
Published On: May 01 2013 09:58:22 PM CDT
Updated On: May 01 2013 11:49:43 PM CDT
RALEIGH, WAKE COUNTY -

The North Carolina Crime Lab in Raleigh is battling a huge backlog. As soon as one batch of results goes out, another request comes in.

NewsChannel 12 wanted to find out what's causing the delays, so we went to the Crime Lab to find out.

You won't see forensic scientists roaming the halls. In fact, most of the work goes on behind closed doors. Our cameras weren't allowed in those sensitive areas.

Analysts put in a lot of hours but just can't keep up with the demand.

"We are currently on mandatory overtime, and you can come up here on the weekend and there probably will be someone working," said Forensic Biologist Mackenzie Dehaan. "There has just really never been enough of us to keep up with the influx of cases."

Scott Thomas, the district attorney for Craven, Carteret and Pamlico counties, said more analysts are needed to process the evidence in a timely manner.

"I don't think that's acceptable," Thomas said. "But I think the folks at the SBI Crime Lab are doing everything they can with the resources they have available."

One recent case stands out.

New Bern mother Amber Sandvig received a DWI citation for a Craven County crash in January 2012. Thomas says his office submitted her lab work to the Crime Lab and even put in a rush request. But he says he didn't receive the results until 13 months later, after Sandvig's second alleged DWI crash. Her six-year-old daughter, Alanna Garris, died in the wreck.

"Now I will say when you have a case that finally ends up resulting in a fatality, they do move that to the front of the line," Thomas said. "But my point is it shouldn't have to get to that extreme situation before you can get a lab result back in a reasonable amount of time."

Thomas said the wait for toxicology results in DWI cases ranges from 18 to 24 months. The Crime Lab puts that number at nine to 12 months.

"And the point now is the Crime Lab backlog, really in some cases, will bring the criminal justice system to a complete standstill," he said.