NC crime lab director says funding needed to clear DNA testing backlog
Posted April 9, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — The director of the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory, which examines evidence in criminal investigations for law enforcement agencies across the state, says he hopes lawmakers will increase funding for the lab this year to help clear the backlog of cases in need of DNA testing.
Director Joseph John said Wednesday that the reason for the delay in analyzing DNA is primarily because of a lack of manpower.
"We need more people," John said. "Secondly, we need to be able to pay those people a salary that will keep them here at the state laboratory."
Last year, the staff in his DNA division worked 4,577 hours of overtime to try to keep up with 3,299 cases. John has 24 forensic biologists and says he needs at least 21 more analysts.
John will be asking lawmakers to approve the funding again in the upcoming session at a cost of about $860 thousand per year.
For the past two years, the General Assembly has denied the crime lab's request for additional funding to hire more forensic biologists.
"If they are serious about trying to get to the truth in criminal cases, if they want the judicial system to work, they need to fund it," defense attorney Scott Holmes said.
Holmes and other attorneys are concerned about the backlog, saying their clients have been in jail, in some cases, for more than two years awaiting DNA test results.
Last week, Durham County prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Holmes' client, Brandon Townsend, a 21-year-old charged in the case of a drive-by shooting of a 13-year-old girl in Durham nearly three years ago.
Part of the reason for the dismissal was because the state crime lab had not completed DNA testing.
"There's no one in the state of North Carolina any more frustrated about the delay caused by our insufficient resources than I am as the laboratory director," John said."
Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback said publicly last week he had no issues with the lab and that it has always been very responsive to his office.