A backlog of drug cases has resulted from budget cuts that have reduced staff and resources in Alabama’s crime lab. Now officials in Etowah County are seeking alternatives to tackle the mounting drug cases. The county has approved the use of a portable tool that analyzes drugs on scene. According to analysts, the TruNarc device can identify and analyze and identify drug compositions within only a few minutes. While the device may ease the caseload for law enforcement officials, defendants should be wary of the implications of “on scene” testing.
After any drug arrest or charge, it is important for defendants to have a clear understanding of their rights. From the initial search and seizure of property, through interrogations, and lab tests, it is important that defendants have an independent advocate who can help review the evidence. Our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys are dedicated to staying abreast of law enforcement processes, procedures, and new technologies. Understanding the way that local and state law enforcement build a criminal case is necessary to building the most effective defense.
According to reports, the new device has helped law enforcement officials significantly reduce the backlog of drug cases. It has only been in use for three months, but the device allows law enforcement officials to use the device at the scene of the seizure. The equipment obtained by the county was paid for by a grant and costs approximately $40,000. It has the capability of determining contents of substances through plastic bags. It can also identify bath salts, spices, and other narcotics that would otherwise be waiting for a crime lab analysis. Enforcement officials say that the device requires at least a quarter of a gram to make an accurate determination.
Officers have likened them to a breathalyzer, allowing officers to get a quick reading and determination about the content and substances being seized at the time of arrest. In some cases, the TruNarc cannot give a reading, but the manufacturer provides online support to help make an accurate determination. In Etowah County alone, there are 2,000 backlogged cases waiting for tests as a result of the budget cuts at the Jacksonville forensics lab. Now the county is able to sidestep the budget cuts and has found an alternative to the lab tests.
From a criminal defense standpoint, this new technology is highly suspect and must be challenged. Like breathalyzer examinations, junk science will too often serve to convict defendants who fail to retain experienced legal help.
Stalled tests also mean that the entire criminal case will have to be postponed. Law enforcement officials have been able to push through 250 cases a month since procuring the new technology. This has allowed officers to cut the backlog in half. They are hoping to have resolved the backlog by the end of the year. For prosecutors, the TruNarc means a quicker turnaround. The agency does not have to wait for a toxicology report. Defendants are given their “day in court.” While this may be a positive breakthrough for law enforcement agencies, the TruNarc should also be reviewed and challenged by defense attorneys. Ensuring proper administration and accurate readings is necessary to prevent wrongful convictions in Alabama.