Crime laboratory personnel as criminal justice decision makers: A study of controlled substance case processing in ten jurisdictions
The crime laboratory has not typically been thought of as a decision stage within the criminal justice process. However, increasing reliance on forensic evidence has led to necessary discretion about what types of cases to accept, what evidence to analyze, and how to prioritize workload. This article reports the results of semi-structured interviews conducted with state and local police agencies, prosecutors, and crime laboratory personnel in ten U.S. jurisdictions. The focus is on controlled substances cases, which represent a substantial proportion of the case workload for crime laboratories, as well as for the police and prosecutors. Results demonstrate that communication between crime laboratories, the police, and prosecutors is essential to maximizing the efficient use of limited laboratory resources. Poor communication can contribute to overflowing police evidence rooms, confusion about evidence retention policies, rushed and unnecessary laboratory requests, and the generation of “artificial backlogs” in crime laboratories. A key for improving coordination was the presence of effective laboratory submission guidelines and case tracking systems. These factors were associated with reductions in both the number of controlled substance cases pending analysis and the analysis turnaround time. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.