Budget cuts slow grand jury process

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

District Attorney Walt Merrill said Monday budget cuts made by state agencies reduced the number of cases heard at last week’s grand jury session.

Merrell said the grand jury returned 172 true bills and 34 no bills. There were 122 cases disposed of prior to the empaneling of the grand jury. Additionally, 140 presentments were continued, he said.

“With the recent closing of the lab in Dothan, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences was not able to return drug analysis reports,” Merrell said. “Until we receive those reports, those cases cannot be presented to the grand jury. The number of continuances was largely a result of these cuts.”

That evidence, as well as drug evidence collected in the future, will be sent to one of the remaining seven labs in the state for testing.

ADFS officials have said by consolidating the state’s labs, the agency can avoid layoffs.

Merrell said he was pleased that so many cases were disposed of by guilty pleas before indictment.

“Everyone in the DA’s office works daily to prepare cases for grand jury, and that hard work shows and, as a result, were able to lessen the load we put on this grand jury.

“This grand jury heard several cases with difficult facts and had to make some tough decisions. Despite all this, they never lost sight of the importance of their duties.”