Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Collateral Cost

Of the war on drugs are people like the folks mentioned in this story, who have been waiting over a year to find out from the state Department of Forensic Sciences what caused the death of a family member.

The problem is this. To convict someone of possessing drugs, the state has to prove the substance was a prohibited drug. That requires scientific tests, which costs money and takes time. It also costs money and time to resolve other forensic issues, like the death of the young woman. So there are lots of needs, but limited resources with which to meet them.

The solution is to either find more resources, or reduce the needs. The article says there are 2,000 backlogged toxicology reports, 1,350 of which are drug related. So if you want to reduce demand, drug cases seem like the obvious place to start. Add to that the questionable success of the war, and the argument for reducing drug cases gets stronger. They cost a lot of time and money, produce few benefits, and hinder other prosecutions. It is only a matter of economics.

Whatever the solution, the state needs to pick one. The current situation is bad for everybody. Victim's families have to wait, and wait, and wait for information about their loss. Prosecutors have to worry about other evidence disappearing while DFS produces the reports. Suspects have to continually wonder if they will be arrested. Those already arrested and unable to make bail will have to sit in jail. Everyone pays the costs of bureaucratic inefficiency.