Evidence Testing Backlog Leads To Delays In Criminal Cases

Posted at 9:58 PM, Feb 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-19 23:25:43-05

A backlog of evidence testing with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has caused long delays in criminal cases

It's caused frustration for detectives ready to make an arrest, but have found themselves waiting months for the testing of key DNA or gun evidence.

In middle Tennessee, the evidence testing happens at the TBI headquarters. Blood alcohol, latent prints, firearms and perhaps most important forensic or DNA testing.

"The TBI does a great deal of analysis for all the District Attorney offices across the state," said Rutherford County District Attorney Jennings Jones.

He said those test results are key to prosecuting suspects for a wide range of crimes.

For instance, DNA evidence and testing results from the TBI were crucial in the arrest of Chriteris Allen.

He's an accused serial rapist linked to an assault on an 85-year-old Murfreesboro woman.

"Nick we did have evidence sent to the TBI for analysis. We made a special request to the TBI in order to get a rush turnaround for that. They accommodated us," said General Jones.

However, he and other District Attorneys along with police detectives know that test results are not always so quick to come.

NewsChannel 5 obtained TBI memos from last year highlighting the long turnaround for some testing.

For instance: In Nashville in October -- Firearms testing? 41 weeks. Forensic biology? That includes DNA testing for sex crimes? 30 weeks. That's nearly eight months of waiting.

"When you have DNA that is pending, unless you have other evidence to go by it can leave you sort of hanging," said Jones. It can even delay arrests.

"There could still be a potential rapist walking around out there," Jones is asked? "That's possible," responded Jones. So, what's the problem?

General Jones and others say the testing scientists work hard.

"The TBI does a very good job with what they have," said Jones.

But here are the realities according to the TBI: The newest testing is lengthy and complex.

More sexual assault kits are submitted than ever before, and budget cuts have put a squeeze on the staff.

The solution may ultimately rest with state lawmakers. The TBI knows turnaround time is second only to the quality of the testing.

What will speed things up: The money to hire and train additional scientists.

In a statement released by TBI officials they acknowledge the turnaround time for DNA testing needs to improve. And they say it will require an additional eight Forensic Scientists to catch up to the demands.