RD497 - Forensic Science Board 2019 Annual Report

Executive Summary:

The Forensic Science Board is the policy board for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS). Pursuant to Virginia Code § 9.1-1110(B), the Forensic Science Board is required to submit a report by November 1 of each year to the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Committee on Finance, and the Crime Commission concerning: 1) new major programs and plans for activities of the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) and elimination of programs no longer needed; 2) policy and priorities in response to agency needs; 3) general fiscal year operational budget and any major changes in appropriated funds; 4) actions to foster and promote coordination and cooperation between the Department of Forensic Science and the user programs which are served; 5) rules and regulations necessary to carry out the purposes and intent of this chapter; and 6) any recommendations submitted to the Board or the Director by the Scientific Advisory Committee.

The most critical issue facing DFS continues to be addressing the Controlled Substances case backlog and reducing the average turnaround time for Controlled Substances cases. The FY19 Budget included funding for six additional Controlled Substances forensic scientists, as well as instrumentation for the section. In August 2018, Governor Northam approved $1,660,000 in emergency funding for additional resources for DFS to address the Controlled Substances backlog. This emergency funding was for six more forensic scientist positions, wage support staff, additional instrumentation, and the outsourced testing of Controlled Substances cases. The budget approved by the 2019 General Assembly replenished the $1,660,000 transferred to FY19 and provided $1,681,000 in FY20 to continue the efforts undertaken to address the backlog and turnaround times. This report provides an update on the status of the measures taken by DFS to increase its capacity to handle these cases. It also explains that, even though Controlled Substances case submissions were relatively flat during the first eight months of 2019, recent changes in federal and state law regarding marijuana and industrial hemp are requiring departmental resources to validate quantitative methods that can test plant material and potential "hemp products" for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol content. The Department is also predicting increased submissions for marijuana and hemp cases that require quantitative analysis, which is testing that is not currently occurring. Using a projection model that assumes a 3% increase in case submissions from the previous year beginning in September 2019, DFS estimates that an approximate average case turnaround time of 60 days will be achieved between December 2020 and February 2021.

Pursuant to Code § 9.1-1110(B), the Forensic Science Board submits this report.