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State Crime Lab Hosts Open House

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MISSOULA -

The Montana State Crime Lab, located in Missoula, held a public open house Thursday in conjunction with National Forensic Science Week.

Crime lab employees showed community members how forensic science plays a vital role in the investigation of crimes in Montana.

The state crime lab, formally called the Forensic Sciences Division lab, is part of the Montana Department of Justice, and employs about 35 scientists and technicians.

These employees process nearly 7,600 cases that come to the lab from all over the state.

Lab employees said they have to produce the most accurate work possible, because these lab results can help decide the fate of individuals accused of a crime.

Lab Division Administrator, Phil Kinsey, said those crimes range from driving under the influence to homicide.

Kinsey said, "It might just be, you know, one person that's been killed, but the amount of evidence that gets submitted might touch every section of the laboratory."

Each of the lab's sections specializes in a different element of forensic science, including breath alcohol, drug chemistry, firearms and tool marks, latent prints and more.

"It's satisfying when you do the hard work of the case analysis, you make some good interpretations, you're very cautious with them, and that's able to be used to bring the guilty to justice," Kinsey said.

He said the lab can see backlogs when there are changes to the criminal justice system, like a recent law allowing law enforcement to request a warrant for a blood test in DUI cases. However, Kinsey said they always catch up, and the lab recently hired a new chemical analyst -- a position awarded to during last legislative session.

"We want to make sure that the return is timely and that justice is not delayed," said Attorney General Tim Fox.

Fox said the state crime lab scientists have also helped pass legislation on "designer drugs," like bath salts and spice.

"We have criminal chemists, basically, who stay up late at night and cook up ways to change what could be just innocuous substances and actually make them mimic dangerous drugs," Fox said.

Fox said those drugs will be illegal to manufacture, possess or sell in Montana starting October 1.

"And ultimately, our goal is to make sure we exonerate the innocent and prosecute and bring the guilty to justice."

The state crime lab provides their services for free to local city police and county sheriff's officials in Missoula.

To find out more information on the state crime lab, click here.

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