Waynesville Police Department is one of several law enforcement agencies hoping to see an expansion of the Western North Carolina crime lab in the next several years to speed up processing, trials and convictions of offenders.
“Our evidence has to go all the way to Raleigh,” said Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed. “We would love to see the expansion of the lab in Western North Carolina.”
The current lab serving WNC, based in the Skyland area of Asheville, can run tests to identify specific drugs and fingerprints as well as process firearms, tool markings and fire-related evidence. However, it is not certified to run toxicology tests, which are most often used to show an individual’s blood alcohol concentration or if they have ingested any drugs. Those tests can only be run at the state lab in Raleigh.
“Right now, our biggest backlog in the system … is toxicology,” Hollingsed said.
What ends up happening is situations like this: A police officer pulls over and arrests a motorist suspected of driving under the influence. At some point, a blood sample is drawn and sent to the lab in Raleigh. While town and county law enforcement officials wait for the results, prosecutors must repeatedly ask for the judge to postpone a hearing or trial as they wait for the results. However, a judge will only delay a case for so long. And, without the toxicology report or other proof that a person was over the legal limit or on drugs, an offender may get off or get a looser punishment than the crime deserves.
Defense attorneys may also request that the crime lab technician who conducted the testing appear in court. In that case, the lab technician must spend a whole day driving from Raleigh to Western North Carolina and back — precious time that could be spent testing evidence for other cases.
“It’s breaking the state,” Hollingsed said.