State lab cuts delay cases here

Published 1:20 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

Covington County’s court system is already seeing delays related to the state’s decision to close the forensic lab in Dothan.

The Dothan lab is one of three the Alabama Depa-rtment of Forensic Sciences closed July 1, 2011, citing tight budgets approved by the state legislature. The scientists who worked there could keep their jobs, but were transferred to Montg-omery or Auburn. The state also closed labs in Jacksonville and Florence.

District Attorney Walt Merrell estimated that 60 of 70 cases that were continued from this week’s grand jury session were drug cases that had to be delayed because law enforcement officials were not able to get reports yet.

“I sincerely hope the legislature will put a high priority on re-opening these labs,” Merrell said. “The money they are saving in the short run, they’ll lose in the long run because of increased expenses.”

For instance, he said, scientists will now have to travel from Birmingham to testify in local drug cases.

There were 343 cases set for grand jury, which met Monday through Wednesday of this week. Of those, 136 were true billed and 82 were settled with guilty pleas before the grand jury convened, Merrell said.

The 70 cases that were continued included 104 counts. There were 21 no bills.

The DA called it a good week.

“We got this session done in three days, which saves the state a little money,” he said, adding that grand jury sessions usually take a full week.

Specific grand jury indictments are not released until they are recorded in the circuit clerk’s office.