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Del. drug-testing lab issues spark prosecution call for trial freeze in all current drug cases

Posted Feb 28, 2014 1:10 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Another state is dealing with reported irregularities at its drug-testing laboratory, calling into question convictions that occurred between 2010 and 2013 as an investigation continues into the apparent theft of evidence.

Prosecutors in Delaware have asked the superior court, court of common pleas and the family court to impose a blanket 60-day freeze on trials in all current drug cases while the situation is sorted out, the News Journal reports.

Both Florida and Massachusetts have also recently addressed major issues with their state crime labs.

Although Delaware Superior Court will not freeze all drug cases, its chief judge said Thursday, he indicated that the court will cooperate with requests for delays in individual cases scheduled for trial in March that involve drug evidence processed by the Delaware Medical Examiner's Controlled Substances Laboratory. Until it was shut down earlier this month, it handled drug-testing for all law enforcement agencies in the state.

"I am not persuaded that a stay of all such cases is warranted," said President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. in a written statement responding to the freeze request, "but I am persuaded that it is not in the interests of justice to require the state to proceed to trial on such cases at this time under the current circumstances."

He plans to confer with the state attorney general and the state public defender about how best to handle ongoing drug cases.

At least 21 problem cases have so far been identified in three counties, according to authorities. Drug evidence on which they were based was either missing or had been tampered with, another News Journal article reports.

The situation came to light during a Jan. 14 drug trial in Kent County, when a state trooper opened a sealed evidence envelope that was supposed to contain blue Oxycontin pills. It actually held pink blood-pressure medicine. The defendant took a plea that released him immediately, crediting him for time served.

On Feb. 20, the crime lab was shut down, and state police secured an evidence locker maintained by the state medical examiner's office.

No charges have been made, and an investigation is ongoing.

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