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County supports UNA lab for forensics

Instead of taking important evidence to a forensics lab in Huntsville, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and local municipal police departments could soon accomplish that a little closer to home.

The Franklin County Commission met in a special work session last week to discuss its support of a proposed forensics lab affiliated with the University of North Alabama, to be located somewhere in Lauderdale or Colbert counties.

UNA formerly had a lab, but it was shut down in the early 2000s and moved to Huntsville.

“There’s a hug backlog there in Huntsville,” said Probate Judge Barry Moore. A backlog means the lab is woefully sluggish about processing important criminal evidence like drug tests and DNA tests – sometimes the statute of limitations can run out on certain evidence, with the present delay.

A lengthy legal process stands between this moment and the moment when the lab might be open and operational, but it all starts with Franklin County and local municipalities – and other counties in Northwest Alabama with their municipalities – voicing their support.

Moore said the Red Bay Police Department is writing a letter of support for the lab. FCSO Chief Deputy Delane Clark said he has also received positive feedback from Police Chief Merrell Potter in Phil Campbell.

Question marks still surround the logistics of the arrangement among the counties interested and the UNA lab. Membership fees at the county and municipal level are a possibility, with the fee based on population – coming in at slightly higher than $5,600 per year for Franklin County, with a three-year commitment. Membership would eliminate the need to pay per piece of evidence, with rates ranging from $100-200 for drug tests and $500-1,000 for DNA tests. Moore said from his discussions with the Franklin County sheriff and deputies, it’s an arrangement that would ultimately save the county money, particularly in light of the time trade-off – with a turnaround time of five to eight days for evidence like drug and DNA tests.

Details also include a likely jail processing fee of $25 per bond (not per charge), of which counties and municipalities could keep a portion of the jail processing fee, likely $1-3, for internal purposes, with the rest of the fee going to the forensics lab.

Moore said he sees the arrangement as a win-win for county, FCSO and all other involved entities, including those awaiting trial and the district attorney.

Vague talks have hinted at the possibility of shutting down the Huntsville forensics lab because of funding issues, which would force Franklin County to take evidence to the next-nearest lab – in Hoover – making the potential UNA lab that much more attractive.

 

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