IMG_0378The North Carolina crime laboratory and other local laboratories perform about 10,000 blood toxicology analyses annually.  The majority of these tests involve impaired driving cases; and, unlike breath analysis results, many months may pass after one has been arrested for DWI before the state receives a toxicology report analyzing the defendant’s blood.

The reasons for such delays are as follows: (1) That it takes more time for the sample to reach the lab; (2) the testing process itself is more time-consuming than that of a breath-test sample, and; (3) since analysts have to testify about their analyses, they spend less time in the actual lab; (4) finally, there is a higher demand for analysts than there are actual people to fill the position.

Therefore, as the turnaround time for toxicology reports increase, many defense attorneys and defendants have had questions as to how such delays affect a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.  Therefore we shall assess the factors a court considers when analyzing a defendant’s motion to dismiss.  These factors are as follows:

a. Length of the delay;

b. Reason for the delay;

c. Defendant’s assertion of his or her right to a speedy trial; and

d. Prejudice to the defendant.

These were determined in the court case, Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972).  This case proposed that when the length of the delay reaches a threshold that is presumptively prejudicial, the court must inquire into the other factors.  So, delays that are in excess of one year are considered to trigger this threshold.  As stated in Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 671 (1992), “the delay that can be tolerated for an ordinary street crime is considerably less than for a serious, complex conspiracy charge.”  The fact that a misdemeanor DWI charge is taking up to a year for lab toxicology allows one to take into account the remaining three factors.  This is due to the fact that one year is entirely too long.

Further, a deliberate attempt by the State to delay trial in order to hamper the defense weighs heavily against the government as do more neutral reasons such as “negligence or overcrowded courts,” although they weigh less heavily.  But, this rests more on the government than on the defendant.  The government must, therefore, come up with a valid reason for the delay.  This takes place after the defendant has met his burden in establishing that there has been a delay.

The central question in such a circumstance is whether a defendant’s right to speedy trial has been violated by the delay in obtaining toxicology results.  In State v. Sheppard, the court found that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated by a fourteen month delay.  However, the state in Sheppard weighed a seven month delay before the State received toxicology results “more neutrally,” given that the state “should be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare its case.”  But, the seven month delay after the lab report was filed did weigh against the state.

Therefore, the state has a duty to ensure that discovery materials, such as DNA evidence, are properly monitored and accounted for and not simply sitting in state crime labs.  So, it seems unlikely in the state of North Carolina, for a defendant to establish a speedy trial violation in a misdemeanor impaired driving case based solely on nearly year-long delays in toxicology reports.  As the delays increase, such is weighed more heavily against the state.

The major issue here is that length of time a defendant must wait for toxicology reports may prejudice the defendant if the length of time is greater than one year.  Courts seem to be more in the favor of the state; but, when the length of time extends past one year, there is likely an argument.  If you or a loved one has been charged with DWI, and have been awaiting the results for an extended period of time, approaching one year, call the law offices of Reeves, Aiken & Hightower, LLP.  We have dealt with many DWI cases in the state of North Carolina, and understand how frustrating such a criminal charge can be.  For a consultation, call our Baxter Village office located in Fort Mill, South Carolina at 803-548-4444, or toll-free at 877-374-5999.