The 6th Amendment to the Constitution gives all Americans the right to a speedy trial. This is an extremely important concept from a legal perspective – without a guarantee of an expeditious trial, those accused of a crime could be subjected to long-term imprisonment while they await trial.
Here in Montana, those accused of crimes could be faced with a longer wait than they would like. This is due to a processing backlog in our state’s crime lab. There is only one crime lab in the state of Montana, located in Missoula. This one lab processes all of the blood samples, suspected illegal drugs and other pieces of evidence that are collected anywhere in the state.
According to a recent article in the Billings Gazette, the 35-person crime lab is currently overworked. Staff members are currently facing a seven-month backlog, and administrators are forced to prioritize constantly to ensure that time-sensitive materials are pushed through. Even so, the lab technicians are not able to meet every deadline; some drug cases have reportedly been dismissed because the crime lab failed to process the evidence in accordance with the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
The location of the crime lab also has an effect. Travel from Billings to Missoula is a 680-mile round trip. Miles City and Glendive are even farther: 940 miles and 1,040 miles round-trip, respectively. This puts a heavy strain on the law enforcement officials who deliver the evidence.
Crime labs play a vital role in our nation’s criminal justice system. Labs check blood samples for evidence of drug use or intoxication and they process suspicious substances for illicit materials. In many cases, these types of evidence are instrumental in proving whether a suspect is innocent or guilty. State authorities should make it a priority to ensure that this evidence is processed not only correctly, but in a timely manner as well. Where prosecutors fail to provide a speedy trial, the case should be dismissed.
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