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Will Backlog of State Crime Lab Affect the Right to a Speedy Trial?

 Posted on July 20, 2021 in Criminal Defense

Waukesha County Criminal Defense AttorneyIn 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Forensic Sciences reported the average time it took the state’s crime lab to process DNA evidence analysis was 94 days. Although this was a slight decrease from the prior year, it was still significantly longer than the 76 days it took in 2017. These types of delays can cause the wheels of justice to turn very slowly for a defendant, but how does it affect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial?

DNA Testing

Whenever police collect evidence that needs to be tested, that evidence is sent to one of the three state crimes labs. According to the lab’s Administrator for the Division of Forensic Sciences, almost all of the evidence their department receives are for felony charges. The process usually involves a “first-come-first-serve basis,” although there are situations where evidence may be able to get pushed to the front of the line, such as when there is a public safety threat or there is a jury trial scheduled.

Until the evidence for a case has been processed by the lab, the criminal justice process cannot proceed. Although a defendant can be charged with a crime, there can be no trial until the evidence testing results have been returned. This means that a pending charge can hang over a defendant’s head for months on end with no timely resolution.

The Right to a Speedy Trial

Under both federal and state law, every person charged with a crime has the right to due process. Included in that due process is the right to a speedy trial. Under federal law, a trial should begin no later than 70 days but no sooner than 30 days, from the date the defendant was indicted.

Under Wisconsin law, if a person has been charged with a misdemeanor, then their trial should begin no later than 60 days from their initial appearance in court. If a person has been charged with a felony, the trial must begin within 90 days.

The court can grant continuances in a case if either the prosecutor or the defense attorney makes that request. One reason a prosecutor in Wisconsin may file a motion to continue is that they have not received DNA evidence back from the state lab. In these situations, it will be up to the court to decide if this is a valid reason.

In Wisconsin, in order to prove that a defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated, they will weigh the following factors:

  • How long has the delay been?

  • What is the reason(s) for the delay?

  • Has the delay caused prejudice against the defendant?

If the court agrees that the defendant’s rights have been violated, they can dismiss the charges with prejudice, which means that prosecutors cannot recharge the defendant.

Contact a Brookfield Defense Lawyer

Although it is not common for charges to be dropped under the speedy trial law, it is still important to have an aggressive Waukesha County criminal law attorney defending you and ensuring your constitutional rights are protected. Call Bucher, Wolff & Sonderhouse, LLP at 262-232-6699 to schedule a free consultation and find out how we can help.


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