I gave the commitee a one-pager on the topic along with oral testimony, and I append that text in its entirety below for any who are interested. (Regular Grits readers have seen some of these arguments before. For more on Texas' crime lab crisis see this House Research Organization policy brief. [pdf])
Houston Community College Conference Center, January 4, 2005
By Scott Henson, Director, Police Accountability Project
Framed innocents in Tulia and Hearne and false convictions based on bad forensic analysis have created a crisis of confidence in
Set reasonable expectations:
Don’t view the issue as atomic – crime lab lapses are a microcosm within a system geared toward maximizing the ease with which convictions can be obtained. Innocent people aren’t convicted because one lab technician makes an error. Innocents are convicted when the actors in the system don’t care that innocents are convicted. This committee should examine all the reasons innocent people are convicted, including but not just limited to the role of forensics.
Don’t neglect other important innocence reforms:
The crime lab crisis is important, but as you fix it, make sure you fix other parts of the system that have contributed to the conviction of innocents.
- Require corroboration of “snitch” evidence, just like confidential informants in undercover drug cases.
- Require prosecutors to disclose discussions with “snitch” witnesses concerning the benefits the witness may receive in exchange for his testimony or cooperation and require that these discussions be reduced to writing.
- Require that exculpatory evidence be disclosed in a timely fashion to the defense, and require that witnesses be entitled to view written witness statements against them.
- Eliminate inconsistent theories of prosecution in multiple defendant cases.
Utilize the adversarial system:
Don’t expect too much from the proposed reform of creating a regional system of crime labs. DPS already operates a regional system, and crime labs in
The state should spend more money for indigent defendants to pay for lab costs and scientific investigations to refute shoddy state crime lab work. In other words, give the adversarial system enough resources to flesh out the truth. No one has a greater interest in ensuring that crime lab results are correct than defendants, so the most certain way to validate crime lab results is to let their attorneys hire experts to conduct independent analysis.
Fund changes with Byrne grant money:
Federal “Byrne grants” are block grant funds distributed by the governor for state and local criminal justice needs. Byrne grant money could allow
Currently, though, $3.5 million in Byrne money comes to
In the case of the “Tulia” drug sting, misconduct by that task force cost
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee recommended abolishing all