The courts deal with many drug cases in Georgia, so many that a backlog is jamming up state crime labs, leading to long delays in cases. Courts and law enforcement agencies are waiting more than 12 months to receive lab reports.
The Union Recorder highlighted the growing problem. Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress told the newspaper the day when police could rely on state crime labs for speedy results are long gone. Valdosta opened its own crime lab years ago and the police chief said the backlog at the state labs justifies that decision.
Earlier this year, Childress said there had been a surge in the amount of casework sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Division of Forensic Sciences.
Valdosta houses the only locally operated lab in Georgia that is accredited with the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Bureau.
Another, the Warner Robins Forensic Laboratory, withdrew its accreditation after the loss of its only full-time chemist.
The Union Recorder article state labs are running with a backlog of 33,000 plus drug cases and a further 61,932 cases are yet to be assigned to the labs.
In July, the Macon Telegraph reported on the concerns of judges about the backlog of testing for drugs cases in Georgia. Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke complained his office faces a wait of seven to eight months to get back test results from the crime lab. It’s not uncommon for results to take a year to return.
“That erodes confidence in the system. And this is, in many ways, directly attributable to the backlog.”
The backlogs have frustrated law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. They delay cases. The issue is also a serious one for defendants. It may take months for them to be cleared of charges.
In Georgia, local law enforcement agencies are trained to perform their own tests following the seizure of marijuana. All other drugs must be sent to the GBI crime labs.
A lack of staff who can analyze drug samples appears to be a factor. The Telegraph reported as of July 1, the labs employed 163 scientists. Of these, 35 of are trained specifically to perform drug analysis.
The penalties for drug offenders in Georgia are serious. Possession of any drug other than marijuana is a felony. Possession of any Schedule I or narcotic Schedule II drug is punishable with 2-15 years in a prison. Subsequent convictions may land you in jail for up to 30 years.
However, many courts in Georgia offer rehabilitative alternatives for low-level offenders who suffer from substance abuse issues. These include residential rehabilitation programs, counseling, and support group help.
Prosecutors often use the threat of indictment as an incentive for these offenders to get help instead. The large backlogs at state crime labs threaten to delay rehabilitation programs. That’s bad for justice on all levels.
If you have been charged with a drug offense, it’s important to seek the help of an experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer. Call us today at (404) 913-1529.