Slow Alabama Drug Evidence Analysis Means Two-Year Local Court Backlog

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A 1,604-case backlog of drug related cases is burdening the Montgomery County, Al., criminal justice system, District Attorney Daryl Bailey tells the Montgomery Advertiser. To put that in perspective, the most recent drug case to come out of forensics is from April 2014. Anybody arrested for drug-related charges would now be waiting more than two years for a trial as evidence is processed.

“What you have are more cases going in than coming out,” Bailey said. “That has created quite a bit of a backlog. We’re more than two years behind. That causes quite a bit of problems for the criminal justice system.”

As more drug cases come in, the backlog increases. Should an offender plead not guilty and wait for a trial, any drug evidence must be analyzed at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS) to prove the substance is what it was suspected to be.

Neither Bailey nor Drug Court Judge Pamela Higgins blames ADFS for the backlog. Hamstrung by the state’s budget crisis and staff cuts, there is no surefire way to speed up the process at the department without a serious injection of state funds. The county’s voluntary Drug Court provides a one-year program that can wipe the offense from the person’s record and allow that person to avoid jail. The only caveat is they must plead guilty and complete the program, which costs $209/month and involves community service and random drug tests. There are only about 20 to 25 cases pending in the court. “That’s not nearly enough,” said Higgins. who is working to advertise the Court as a viable option.

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