The Forensics Backlog in Illinois Criminal Cases is Worsening

Forensics teams within Illinois police departments gather evidence that supports a criminal conviction. Forensic investigators gather physical evidence at the scene of the crime such as fluid, blood, residue, fingerprints, and electronic devices.

Prosecutors interpret the forensic evidence gathered by investigators to bring criminal charges against a suspect. Forensic investigation has become essential to securing criminal convictions, especially in murder trials. The Illinois State Police Labs is facing a severe backlog that is negatively affecting the ability of prosecutors to bring criminal charges against defendants.

The Forensic Investigation Backlog in Illinois Hurts Criminal Prosecution

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order in August 2019 to create a "task force on forensic science." The mission of the task force is to find a possible solution for Illinois’ forensic investigation backlog. Illinois’ already significant backlog has doubled in recent years. Illinois state forensic laboratories have over 8,000 incomplete DNA tests awaiting processing. Over 2,700 of those DNA tests involve possible sexual abuse or assault.

Shockingly, the average time to complete a DNA test in Illinois was 288 days as of July 30, 2019. Forensic investigators complete 70,000 DNA tests a year at six different forensic science laboratories. The Governor signed a bill in May that will increase the hiring of forensic technicians.

There are two critical problems with the significant forensic backlogs Illinois faces. First, it is difficult if not impossible for the state to provide defendants with a speedy or fair trial when it takes forensic teams an average of 288 days to test DNA samples. Second, possible criminals will remain on the streets while awaiting their trial. Speedy processing of forensic evidence is essential to solving Chicago area crimes.

Poorly Conducted Forensic Investigations can Lead to Not Guilty Verdicts

Prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed the crime in question beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, prosecutors often attempt to use forensic evidence that was poorly secured.
In September 2015, an Illinois state crime lab audit revealed that forensic investigators submitted inaccurate or unreliable forensic test results to prosecutors. State officials told the crime lab that their blood alcohol tests were incorrect. An internal state audit reviewed that blood alcohol tests conducted by the Illinois State Police Laboratories contained inaccuracies. After seeing the results of the audit, an Illinois judge dismissed the charges against one defendant for driving while intoxicated.

The news organization ABC7 investigated the audit in detail and discovered that the Illinois State Police lab had numerous urine and blood testing errors, such as:

  • Switched test samples
  • Mislabeled specimens
  • Mixed-up test results
  • Improperly calibrated tests
  • Improper testing methods
  • The wrongful destruction of test samples

The audit revealed that many lab technicians failed to perform “method validations” of their testing procedures. Lab technicians must validate their blood alcohol testing methods. If the test is done incorrectly or was tampered with, the evidence will be invalid in the case.

At Glasgow & Olsson, our attorneys are familiar with the mistakes that Illinois forensic laboratories make. We investigate all of the evidence used against our clients thoroughly. Contact our Cook County criminal defense law firm today to learn how our experienced attorneys can help you fight for your rights.

(image courtesy of David von Diemar)

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