Tardy SBI labs worries some for impact on justice

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 03:43 PM

Delays in processing evidence at state labs is putting the squeeze on prosecutions in Vance County, and it is impacting whether defendants accused of murder or drug trafficking may be released on bond because of the longer wait for trial.

From the point of view of defendants awaiting trial, the delays put on hold their freedom from incarceration on a high bond and their ability to form a response to police charges.

Judge Reuben F. Young ruled in a case of multiple heroin trafficking charges Wednesday against 27-year-old Michael Jamal Allen that a $125,000 bond should be reduced to a defense-requested $50,000 if State Bureau of Investigation lab analysis is not done at least by Aug. 23.

Allen, of 3829 Raleigh Road, Lot 9, is charged with two counts each of heroin trafficking and possessing heroin for sale. His attorney, David Waters, said Allen should be granted lower bond because the state has essentially delayed the resolution of his case.

According to Waters, a witness in the case is of questionable credibility, and a response to the charges is delayed longer because of the SBI lab wait.

After the hearing Bill Griffin, the assistant district attorney, acknowledged that delays are taking place more frequently in recent months, but it is for reasons more complex than a simple matter of budget cuts.

“That (Allen case) was a case specific ruling,” Griffin said. “There have been more delays, but I am not aware of what that amounts to statistically. Delays have been increasing in frequency over the course of the last year.”

Griffin added there were no other bond ultimatum rulings this week, but agreements by judges to set a due date or provide lower bond because of evidence delays takes place frequently.

“There have been efforts to boost the protocols of evidence and the credentials of the analyst technicians,” Griffin said. “Also, because of recent rulings the SBI analysts are being tasked with testifying in person more, which takes them away from their work.”

Griffin said the SBI lab assured him the 30-day requirement would be met in Allen’s case.

“They’re working extremely hard,” Griffin said. “They indicated to me that they would be able to complete the analysis for the two trafficking charges in question.”

The problem of a long wait for an SBI lab test on blood-alcohol toxicity was also a potential problem in the case of Vincent Gregory. Among other charges, he’s facing second-degree murder and driving while impaired charges in the Jan. 27 vehicle collision death of 5-year-old Jayden Stokes.

Gregory’s bond was reduced from $1.25 million to $750,000 on Tuesday. Stokes family members said they were concerned when they heard from Griffin about the lab work delays.

“We do want this whole thing to be over with,” said Cathy Vaughan-Stokes, Jayden’s grandmother, one of several family members at each of Gregory’s court appearances.

The matter of lengthy waits for SBI results factored in during earlier proceedings of a rape case involving Daquan Keith Foster, which was also heard this week. Defense attorney Nick Bagshawe requested independent labs be found to get the work done faster.

Results from the SBI came back in time for the Tuesday hearing, and both sides acknowledged they are close to a plea deal.

Griffin said budget constraints do factor some in the problem. One impact is SBI labs are training for higher credentials, but then those lab technicians are difficult to keep in North Carolina because they are not subsequently paid more.

“The analysts are more attractive to agencies in other states that can offer them higher salaries,” Griffin said.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.