U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NIJ Controlled Substances Case Processing Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2011
103 pages
This study examined how controlled-substances (CS) cases are processed in crime laboratories; describes the role that CS evidence plays in prosecutors' charging decisions, pretrial plea negotiations, and posttrial convictions; and obtains descriptive information from a range of U.S. jurisdictions that can be used in identifying problems and developing systemic solutions to backlogs of CS cases and other inefficiencies in these forensic systems.
The findings indicate that jurisdictions vary significantly in how they process and analyze CS evidence. Laboratory drug analysis results were not often used or required in the charging process; in many jurisdictions, the charging decisions were linked to the field test results and not to the confirmatory laboratory analysis. In only one jurisdiction did the prosecutor require that the confirmatory analysis be conducted prior to the grand jury process and before any plea negotiation discussions. Although laboratory CS analysis was not required for plea negotiations in most sites, some still submitted all drug evidence directly to the laboratory regardless of whether it would ultimately be needed. The study identified a pressing need for more uniform procedures and standards for submitting and analyzing CS evidence, including attention to prioritization based on factors such as case seriousness. From a law enforcement perspective, the findings indicate that more systematic policies and resources should be in place for evidence retention and storage. A key for improving coordination was the presence of effective laboratory submission guidelines. In three jurisdictions, the development and implementation of a case submission policy was credited with significant reductions in both the number of CS cases pending analysis and the time required to process cases. Case-tracking systems that promote information sharing and monitoring across the various stages of the process were also effective. 5 figures, 1 table, 32 references, and appended overview of legal procedures, and stakeholder interview guides

Date Published: March 1, 2011