TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback today signed a law designed to allow criminologists from the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center to file investigative reports in writing, without having to testify in court.
Backers of House Bill 2057 said it is designed to speed court proceedings and free up more time for investigative work, by giving the criminologist reports from the Sedgwick County lab and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Laboratory the same status in court as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Highway Patrol.
Lawyers who want to have the county criminologists testify in person will still be able to bring them to the witness stand, officials said.
Timothy Rohrig, director of the Sedgwick County lab, said it will help free up some investigative time and streamline some proceedings, especially when his scientists have to go out of town, but he doesn’t expect a huge impact on the center’s operation.
He said most of the local lawyers already work closely with the lab and are usually willing to accept written reports as evidence.
However, he said it does take his scientists about half a day to testify in court, between their actual testimony and waiting for their turn to speak.
“If you’re four hours down in court, that’s four hours you’re not on the (laboratory) bench,” he said.
The forensics lab performs a variety of duties, including coroner services, DNA analysis and testing to determine whether substances seized by police are actual illegal drugs.
The center employs 37 people. That includes 17 laboratory scientists and three pathologists, who are the ones who testify in court cases, Rohrig said.
Brownback praised the local facilities in a news conference today.
“They do a high quality job and we’re attempting to utilize them on an equal par with the state facilities,” he said.
He added that it will help make investigations more efficient.
“Time issue can be a portion of it, but to me it opens up more options,” Brownback said. “If you’re a DA or a county attorney and you’re close by Sedgwick County or Johnson County and it just makes more sense and you’re used to working with them on something, do it, instead of going to the state laboratory facilities.”