Tougher DUI laws lead to longer wait times from crime lab

Tougher DUI laws lead to longer wait times from crime lab (Image 1)

Wait times for blood analysis from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab has doubled and in some cases quadrupled following stricter DUI laws.

The TBI crime lab tests blood samples to determine a person's blood alcohol content and what drugs if any are present in the person's blood at the time they are arrested.

In January 2012, Tennessee enacted no refusal laws that allow law enforcement to obtain a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver without a warrant if the person has a previous DUI conviction or has a child under the age of 16 years old in the vehicle.

In an increasing number of DUI arrests prescription drugs are the cause of the intoxication.

A blood test is required to determine what drugs are present in a person's system.

Breathalyzers do not detect drugs.

“If you were to take a workplace drug test they are usually looking for a limited number of commonly abused drugs,” TBI Regional Crime Lab Supervisor Mike Lyttle said. “It tests you to determine if you are positive or negative for opiates, cocaine, marijuana and a few other categories of drugs.”

He continued, “What we do is a little more open ended.”

The crime lab provides the analysis free of charge to Tennessee law enforcement agencies.

The change to Tennessee's implied consent laws increased blood sample submissions to the TBI Crime Lab by 50%.

However, the agency was not provided with additional funding to hire lab technicians. The increased work load lead to a longer turnaround time for analysis.

The turnaround time on a blood alcohol content test went from two weeks to up to eight weeks.

The turnaround time for a drug screening went from eight weeks to up to 30 weeks.

“We do wet chemistry work on the sample to extract what drugs may be in there and we run those on instrumentation,” Lyttle said. “The scientists sit down and go through those results literally line by line to determine what is in there.”

Lyttle said the lab will often request new drugs that turn up in drug screenings to learn more about its chemistry and effects on humans.

The TBI said it is planning to hire more technicians, though it may be months before they are fully trained and working in the crime lab.

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