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Budget mandates mean end of certain tests now in use at state crime lab

Jul 29, 2016 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE (AP) -- The director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation says he expects that the recent decision to stop performing tests of some types of evidence at the state crime lab in Cheyenne in response to state budget cuts won't have a large effect on criminal prosecutions in the state.

DCI Director Steve Woodson said in a recent interview that the budget cuts have forced the lab to halt analysis of many forms of so-called trace evidence, including hair and fiber samples. He also said the lab will no longer make gun-shot residue tests a priority while it increasingly focuses on processing DNA evidence.

Most of the requests the crime lab receives from prosecutors around the state are for DNA analysis, Woodson said. "I honestly think that it will have very limited if any impact on a prosecutorial decision," he said of discontinuing tests on the other forms of evidence.

Woodson said his agency will direct prosecutors to other laboratories to perform trace evidence tests if they appear crucial in an important case.

Casper District Attorney Mike Blonigen said Thursday he believes the decision to stop testing some types of evidence at the DCI lab will hinder both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Blonigen said the changes at the lab won't affect what he called "smoking-gun evidence," meaning fingerprints and DNA.

"But what we'll lose is an opportunity for some good corroborating evidence," Blonigen said. "Lots of times, DNA just doesn't do what you need it to do. For instance, gunshot residue: it doesn't tell us who fired a gun, despite what Hollywood might want to tell you. But it says you were in the vicinity of where a gun was fired. That can be important say in self-defense cases, things like that."

Blonigen said the cuts at the crime lab make it clear that Wyoming isn't making criminal justice a priority. He emphasized that the lab doesn't only work for prosecutors, but performs tests for public defenders as well.

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