Openings and closings: Fair justice relies on effective crime labs
With two Michigan crime labs set to close in 2008 due to insufficient funding, law enforcement officials said recently that cutting back on forensic testing will have a drastic impact on the state’s ability to identify and prosecute criminals. “That’s a longer time they will be out there doing crime,” Delta County Undersheriff Ed Oswald said. “It’s not good for Michigan.”
And every time a state cuts funding for crime labs, the chance of forensic error is increased. Overburdened and understaffed labs are less able to store, retrieve and test evidence in a reliable, efficient manner. With growing demands from state DNA databases and law enforcement agencies, many labs, like those in Michigan, are stretched to the breaking point.
In Wisconsin, a murder prosecution has been held up for months while forensic testing drags on at a private lab, which was employed to avoid backlogs at state labs. Three Minnesota counties have asked the state legislature for three consecutive years to fund a new crime lab, because backlogs at the state lab have delayed investigations in the county.
Texas voters last week passed an amendment to the state constitution which allowed several state agencies to fund new projects, including a new crime lab in El Paso and increased funding for labs elsewhere in the state. Several observers of the state’s criminal justice system, however, opposed the bill because it also funds the construction of three new prisons and a new juvenile facility.
Read more on the Grits for Breakfast blog
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