The role of science in criminal prosecutions has increased significantly in recent decades, from DNA evidence in cases involving allegations of rape and other sex crimes to drug possession charges based on the precise nature and quantity of a controlled substance. In Ohio, an important role in developing evidence for many cases is played by the Ohio State Highway Patrol Crime Lab.
The OSHP lab provides services to law enforcement agencies throughout the state, conducting several different types of forensic analysis, including:
- Drug chemistry tests to identify and determine if evidence obtained in an investigation or arrest contains illegal drugs such as cannabis
- Toxicology tests to identify evidence of drugs or alcohol in a DUI/OVI suspect’s blood, urine or another bodily fluid
- Detection and development of latent fingerprint evidence
Evidence rules in the criminal justice process require close oversight of the chain of custody of samples and a defendant’s due process rights mandate the reasonably prompt return of results. The Springfield News-Sun recently reported that a processing backlog at the state crime lab has led to the dismissal of multiple cases involving drug crimes.
An OSHP spokesperson attributed the backlog to a recent nine percent increase in drug arrests and a seven percent increase in drunk driving arrests. According to the Ohio Department of Safety, the backlog exceeded 4,000 cases in late 2011.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that turnaround times at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s three crime labs have recently improved after their performance became an issue in the 2010 state attorney general campaign. The BCI labs conduct DNA testing used in murder, rape and other violent crime cases.
Aside from the fact that testing delays can have serious implications for a client’s ability to get a speedy trial, there are many other reasons why defendants in cases involving forensic evidence benefit from working with a criminal defense lawyer. Challenges to testing methods, inconsistent results and other irregularities can make a considerable difference in the level of charges faced as well as the final legal outcome.