Nfld. & Labrador

Charges laid in drunk-driving case held up by forensic lab delays

A St. John’s man has been charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm in a case that remained in limbo for months because of delays in getting blood evidence analyzed at an RCMP-run forensic lab.

The 44-year-old man was in head-on crash in Goulds this January

Charges have been laid in an impaired driving case that was delayed by how long it took to get blood evidence analyzed. (CBC)

A St. John's man has been charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm in a case that remained in limbo for months because of delays in getting blood evidence analyzed at an RCMP-run forensic lab.

The 44-year-old was charged in July with two counts related to impaired driving.

His case was called at provincial court in St. John's Thursday morning. It was set over until next month.

The charges relate to a head-on crash on Robert E. Howlett Drive in the Goulds area of St. John's in January.

According to RNC documents previously submitted to the court, the police suspected right away that alcohol played a role in the collision.

Those documents indicated that a paramedic smelled booze on one of the drivers, and a police officer also observed a "strong smell of alcohol" from his breath, as well as watery and bloodshot eyes.

The RNC obtained a blood sample for forensic analysis.

But three months after the accident, they were still waiting for those test results.

The police had to go to court for permission from a judge to hold onto the blood evidence for a while longer.

In an affidavit seeking that extension, the police officer highlighted lab cutbacks as a factor: "Due to the closing of three National Forensic Laboratories within Canada, the time frame for analysis is expected to be beyond 90 days."

3 of 6 RCMP labs closed

In interviews with CBC News earlier this summer, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary brass and a top provincial prosecutor downplayed the significance of the lab delays issue in the justice system.

The RCMP's National Forensic Laboratory Services handles requests from municipal and provincial police forces across Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador.

A few years back, three of the six RCMP labs were shut down as a cost-cutting measure.

Concerns were raised at the time of the announcement about the potential impact on the justice system.

Since then, some of those fears have manifested themselves in slower response times for certain types of forensic analyses.

The Mounties told CBC News this summer that they work with investigators to determine deadlines for forensic work based on the "urgency or priority of the case."

With files from Ariana Kelland

About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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