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Flood of drug cases slows work at Indiana crime labs

Virtually every law enforcement agency in Indiana relies on crime laboratories to help it do its work. Unlike their portrayal in several popular television shows, however, local crime labs do not spend most of their time finding obscure clues or identifying rare drugs and other chemicals. Instead, Indiana crime labs devote a majority of their time to the mundane but vital task of identifying substances seized by police at crime scenes.

Whenever an Indiana law enforcement agency confiscates what are believed to be narcotics or prescription drugs, the substance is sent to a crime laboratory for a definitive identification. The Indiana State Police operates four crime labs that do this work, and these labs provide services for 92 of the state's 92 counties. Marion County and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police jointly operate a single laboratory. The labs are equipped to test for nearly every type of illicit drug. Marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin are drugs most frequently submitted for testing.

The number of drug samples submitted for testing has been increasing for the last several years. In 2014, the state labs received 10,222 cases. In 2016, the labs were asked to test 12,122 samples. The number for 2017 is expected to top 14,000. The Indianapolis lab is about five months behind in responding to test requests. In some cases, the trial date was postponed because the crime lab had not finished testing the drugs at issue. If police fear that a drug dealer may obtain release from incarceration before the tests are completed, they often ask the laboratory to expedite its work.

The slow pace of drug testing can provide an experienced criminal defense attorney with several defenses. Defects in the chain of custody, that is, a failure to protect the drugs from contamination as they are transferred from the crime scene to the laboratory to the test apparatus, often provide fertile grounds for challenging the admissibility of laboratory tests. Anyone who faces drug charges that may depend upon laboratory analysis of the drugs in question may wish to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice.

Source: Fox 59, "Indiana crime labs dealing with backlog due to increase in drug cases," Shannon Houser, Nov. 14, 2017

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