Forensics backlog should be addressed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Reports that the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has a backlog of 2,000 DNA cases is not welcome news. The reports indicate that it is not unusual for the forensics work in a murder case in Alabama, for example, to require as long as two years to be completed.

Other sections in the department report similar, or worse, backlogs.

The drug chemistry analysis division, which is used to identify drugs, reports a 9,000-case backlog. The firearms division, in which experts link spent shell casings to suspected murder weapons, has 700 unworked cases. The toxicology division, in which blood and tissue is examined for the presence of durgs or alcohol, has about 900 waiting cases.

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That should disturb every Alabamian.

Among our basic rights as citizens is the right to a fair and speedy trial. Few things are more essential to an efficient and effective judicial system than the idea that both victims and the accused have a right to have their case heard in a timely manner.

The forensics backlog threatens that right.

The problem is not new. The department has been facing a backlog for some time now. Last year then-Gov. Don Siegelman released a one-time $1 million grant from the emergency fund to help offset the problem. While the grant provided welcome relief, it was, in reality, little more than a Band-Aid approach to the problem of an under-funded department that is chronically short-staffed.

It is time for the Legislature to address the problem in a manner that promises to permanently reduce the backlog of cases and restore faith in a judicial system that often takes far too long to mete out justice.

Victims of crime should not be victimized all over again by a judicial system unable to perform even the most basic of legal functions. Those accused of a crime should not have to wait years for their day in court.

Alabamians deserve better.