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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ind. Courts - More on "Backlog of cases extends toxicology test results: Toxicology tests often take weeks, months to complete"

That was the headline to this worth reading again story by Tom Moor of the South Bend Tribune on July 6, 2009.

Today from the front-page of the Indianapolis Star, a story by Mark Alesia headed "Toxicology chief resigns amid review: Critics say department's work in drunken-driving cases is slow, sloppy." Some quotes from the lengthy story:

The head of the state department responsible for analyzing blood samples in drunken-driving cases resigned Wednesday amid a review of complaints, including long delays, sloppy work and failure to perform inspections required by law.

Those concerned with the department's performance told The Indianapolis Star this week that the problems have resulted in dismissed cases and an additional cost to taxpayers.

The department was also facing conflict-of-interest complaints because its website offers employees as expert witnesses who can be hired by defense attorneys. * * *

An "assessment team," led by former state appeals court judge Linda Chezem, had been examining the toxicology department and was set to meet IU officials Friday. That meeting will go on as scheduled.

Chezem's group, which includes state Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, and state Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, had gone about its work quietly before being contacted by The Star on Tuesday.

Before Wagner's resignation Wednesday, Chezem said, "This needs to be a lab people have confidence in." She said her group was still gathering information and had not reached any conclusions about the department.

People on both sides of the justice system -- prosecution and defense -- don't appear to have confidence in the lab.

Boone County prosecutor Todd Meyer said he uses the Witham Toxicology Laboratory in Lebanon for "99 percent" of his blood tests in Operating While Intoxicated cases.

"I've had prosecutors tell me they've stopped sending them to the Department of Toxicology," Meyer said. "Witham takes two to five days. The Department of Toxicology takes two to five months."

But that decision comes with a cost to taxpayers. Prosecutors have to come up with extra money to use labs other than the state's, which provides service at no cost to law enforcement.

Marie Greger-Smith, head of Advocates Against Impaired Driving, said she has heard of at least four OWI cases in the Indianapolis area that were dismissed because of the Department of Toxicology. She said one of them was discussed at the most recent meeting of the Governor's Council on Impaired & Dangerous Driving, of which she is a member.

People who described those dismissals did not divulge specific case details, Greger-Smith said, and there was no data available that would shed more light on how many cases are overturned or how frequently there are issues with testing performed by the state lab.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 13, 2010 01:35 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts