Forensics budget cuts ‘delay justice’

Published 9:09 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

State budget cuts are once again trickling down with a negative effect on Pike County, this time slowing down investigators and prolonging court cases.

The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences’ funding has been cut 33 percent in the last three years. The department has also lost 27 employees since 2009.

“They had taken strides catching up with turnover and backlogs,” said Pike County District Attorney Tom Anderson. “But this will just be slowing down their process again.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Three years ago, the agency had about $14 million to spend and was able to eliminate most backlogs, but the recession hit and their budget has dropped almost $5 million a year.

Labs have been closed, including one in Coffee County.

“Now everything is being taken to Montgomery,” Anderson said.

From fatal car crashes to the kidnapping of a Troy University student, open cases in Pike County probably won’t be resolved any time soon.

“We can’t speculate on things,” said Troy Police Sgt. Benny Scarbrough. “We look on the facts we have before us. That information we get from DFS or other agencies is vital to our cases.”

Scarbrough explained that the analyzed evidence is necessary to give lawmen further leads, or help prove a suspect’s guilt or innocence.

Families looking for closure after the death of a loved one in a vehicle crash have been put on hold, too.

“The analysis can take months to be completed and returned to the investigating officer and is usually key evidence to the case,” said Sgt. Steve Jarrett with the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Jarrett said when State Troopers are assigned to investigate traffic crashes involving death or serious injuries, a blood or urine sample is collected from each driver, whenever possible.

That’s why investigations of local fatal crashes, including the ones resulting in the deaths of Hobi Hussey, George Al Shipman and Paul Mitchell, are ongoing.

Anderson said he feels cutbacks to the state agency are detrimental to his cases because many times forensic testimony is a big portion of his evidence in court.

Anderson said, “Justice delayed is, in fact, justice denied and it affects everybody.”