ANNISTON, Ala. (WIAT) — Three suspects arrested by the Anniston Police Department on drug charges are being released after the Alabama state forensics lab lost the drugs seized during the arrests.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said the loss makes it impossible for the suspects to receive a fair trial. He said he understands human error, but this is something that never should have happened.
“We depend on them to test our bullets, we depend on them to test our dead bodies,” McVeigh said. “We depend on them for a lot of tests and the assumption is that they’re a secure lab.”
Whenever a crime is committed, evidence gathered goes to a state lab facility for analysis. It’s a critical component to a successful prosecution.
“It was Suboxone strips which are pretty small and would be in a white envelope. There were two that survived the testing process,” said McVeigh.
The chain of custody is recorded for every piece of evidence submitted, but if evidence goes missing, it can be fatal to the case.
“I’ve got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and so if the defense comes and says ‘well, they have those but there’s no way to test them. There’s no way to verify that those are true.’ Then that is a reasonable doubt,” said McVeigh.
McVeigh said often, the trial process proceeds while the courts wait on the lab to process the evidence. Even though the lab completed its own tests, they can’t turn the evidence over to the defense for independent verification.
“They had already tested them, so we have test results showing it was Suboxone,” McVeigh said. “I think it clearly was Suboxone, they clearly were guilty, but I can’t carry those cases forward knowing that the lab has lost the evidence.”
“The people that whose case this was, they get a free pass. We’re fortunate it wasn’t a major case,” said Anniston Police Chief Shane Denham.
Denham said it’s frustrating for this to happen after the many man hours put into the cases, but he hasn’t lost any faith in the lab.
“I understand that errors happen. As long as you take corrective action and hopefully that’s what they’re trying to do,” Denham said. “I have not lost faith in them and I’m sure they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”