Our View

Our View

State crime lab backlog a sad sign of the times

It was certainly interesting but, by the same token, very disturbing to learn from our recent news story about our state’s crime lab facilities and why they just might be a contributing factor as to why our judicial system is incapable of keeping pace with the number of criminal cases that come before it.

From a layman’s viewpoint and from our initial observation, a main reason Arkansas encounters such high number of repeat offenders, and such a high crime rate, may just be because the system which methodically evaluates every piece of evidence in a felony crime is totally inadequate.

In other words, the state’s current two crime labs and staff are incapable of processing all the evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies throughout the state in a timely manner.

Let’s put it this way, according to West Memphis Police Capt. Bob Langston the turnaround time for conclusive results from the crime lab can take up to 16 months in some cases.

Examples Langston pointed out show that it takes over a month in some cases to get the results on national integrated ballistics information; latent fingerprints, 63 days; DNA/homicides, 63 days; DNA/sexual assault, six months and drug analysis, up to nine months.

As we all know, in our system of judicial justice a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty but, when our system fails to produce the clear-cut evidence necessary for prosecution in a timely manner those individuals accused of a specific felony crime are set free to roam our streets and communities only to be caught again form committing another criminal act.

Langston pointed out that the time for illegal drug conclusions puts police as well as prosecutors in a bad situation, and said that when the timeline for prosecution runs out there is little choice but to release the suspect.

On a more positive note, there is good news on the horizon as Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor and administrator of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, announced just recently that the state will open a third crime lab next year. That will mean there will be a lab in Little Rock, a satellite office that was opened in 2004 on the campus of the University of Arkansas community College in Hope, and now a 10,000 square-foot lab, which will share space with the Arkansas State Police Troop L in its new headquarters in Lowell.

The reason we’re told for locating the new lab in Northwest Arkansas, is because 40 percent of the state’s drug and toxicology cases originate in that region, which is being blamed for a statewide bottleneck.

While this sounds encouraging, there are no assurances there will be improvements in analyzing evidence from crimes other than drug related, such as homicides, sexual assaults and gun-related crimes. While we see there is a considerable amount of concern over the complaints from the northwest portion of Arkansas what is being done to address the issues expressed by our law enforcement agencies in the delta region?

Maybe, just maybe, there will be some serious consideration given in the future to opening a satellite office in this part of the state, such as one in Jonesboro.