DOUBLE SPRINGS —
With the court docket and forensic testing backlog piling up, the Winston County Sheriff’s Office has purchased its own in-house spectroscopy system to test alleged drug samples in an effort to speed up the judicial process.
The sheriff’s office has purchased a $14,000 Centice MFL-3000 Raman Spectroscopy system that will be used to test drug samples recovered in local arrests. In the past, all samples had to be sent off to a Huntsville lab for testing, which can take months or even years to complete.
Winston County is reportedly the second county in the state to use an in-house spectrometer, along with Calhoun County.
Lt. Wes Brown noted the vast majority of drug cases in Winston County are possession and first-time offenders, and said the field test will hopefully expedite the process of moving the cases through the court system.
“This whole thing started because our court dockets are stacked with those types of cases, and this is something we want to do, really, to benefit the defendant,” he said. “This way, if someone wants to plead out, we can get the case finished without having to drag it out for two, or even five years, due to being continued for different reasons.”
Brown said another benefit to the new system is that it will allow offenders to get plugged into court-ordered recovery programs faster, which will hopefully provide needed assistance to stem drug use in the area. Brown said approximately 90 percent of possession charges end with the offender taking court-ordered classes or counseling.
“For example, when someone has been stopped and caught with a small amount of meth or a couple of pills, they may need help immediately,” he said. “Typically, the vast majority of cases plead out, and this way we can get it closed and be able to get those people some help and get them into a court-ordered program.”
Any case that is going to trial will still be sent off for analysis by the lab, but Brown said this field test system should help with the majority of cases and provide ample evidence for cases that are settled by plea or with a plea deal.
“That will still be sent off for further testing before a trial, but most of our cases plead out and this will create more options for defendants to get into drug court and programs like that,” he said. “This gives us something the court can accept and we can move forward.”
The spectroscopy system uses a laser to identify and confirm the contents of several different illegal drugs, including methamphetamine and many prescription drugs.
“It tells you exactly what it is, what it contains and even if they used something to cut it with or if they’ve added another narcotic,” Brown said. “We’re hoping this is something that’ll catch on and we think its a great idea.”
The sheriff’s department, with the cooperation of some local police departments in the county, is set to host a firearms auction Saturday at the Double Springs municipal building to cover the purchase of the equipment. The auction is set to start at 10 a.m.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.