Schimel unveils plan to ease backlog for OWI offenses

WAUKESHA (WITI) -- Waukesha District Attorney and Attorney General candidate Brad Schimel has unveiled a plan to address the backlog of blood samples tested for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offenses, which forces prosecutors to delay processing some cases for nearly a year.

Schimel said his proposal would shift responsibility for testing blood samples for first offense and misdemeanor OWI offenses from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene to the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the State Crime Laboratory.

In 2003, the turnaround time for drug testing by the Hygiene Lab was 64 days.  By 2011, that delay had increased to 245 days, and by 2012 the delay was nearly one year.

The delays in testing force prosecutors to wait for up to a year before a drugged driving case may be resolved in court.

“The greatest problem facing prosecutors who handle these cases is the tremendous delay between the time that a blood test is taken from a suspect and prosecutors receive test results from the Hygiene Lab.” District Attorney Schimel said. “Until we have the test results, these cases can't be processed by our courts.  In the meantime, these drivers remain on the road without any supervision, punishment or mandated treatment.  My plan will address these delays by rightly placing the responsibility with the DOJ, which will give prosecutors the tools to do their job and reduce the number of impaired drivers on Wisconsin roads.”

Schimel added the volume of cases submitted to the UW Hygiene Lab has increased exponentially, particularly with the greater incidence of drugged driving cases. In less than ten years, the number of tests in suspected drugged driving cases has more than doubled.

Schimel has commended Attorney General JB Van Hollen for recognizing the problem and taking over responsibility for testing felony drunk driving cases without any additional funding for the Department of Justice’s crime labs.

Attorney General Van Hollen’s efforts sped up testing on the most serious cases, but despite these changes the backlog at the Hygiene Lab continued to get worse.

In 2012, the Hygiene Lab sought and obtained additional funding to outsource a substantial number of cases to a laboratory in Pennsylvania, which helped the backlog but didn't cure the problem.

Today, prosecutors and judges agree that the delay is still too long, and the experts that are necessary to support test results in court are too often unavailable.

District Attorney Schimel proposes the following measures to address the backlog: