Raleigh, N.C. — State and local law enforcement officials say a backlog of evidence awaiting testing at the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory is delaying prosecution of drug cases.
Part of the reason, they say, is that there are not enough scientists to test seized substances to verify that they are actually illegal as well as the approximately 10,000 blood samples for the presence of drugs and alcohol.
"Everyone in the court system is very frustrated with this," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
For years, Cooper and the North Carolina Department of Justice have asked the state for more resources and staffing, but those requests have had mixed success.
Recently, the North Carolina General Assembly approved 19 new toxicology scientist positions, but filling the posts and training new hires could take up to two years.
In addition, state salaries for forensic scientists are lower compared to similar positions in private or other public labs, making it difficult for the State Bureau of Investigation to retain employees.
"What we have is the perfect storm," Cooper said. "We've had budget cuts, and we've had a significant increase in the amount of cases."
In Cumberland County, for example, District Attorney Billy West says 758 drug cases are on hold because investigators are waiting on test results from the crime lab.
Concerns about delays in Wake County led county commissioners to allocate funding for chemists to analyze evidence instead of relying on the SBI.
"We're much more fortunate because of our county commissioners seeing the need and responding to it," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.