We have been subjected to a decade of unfolding scandals at HPD's lab, on everything from DNA, to toxicology, to firearms, to outright falsification of lab results, to failure to even review evidence in capital and other serious cases. Now we discover that their fingerprint "identification" section is not only unworthy of the name, but should be renamed the "mis-identification" section, because their techs are unable to get this right even on a murder case where someone's life could literally be at stake. Do not get me wrong — the other labs run by law enforcement have all had their share of problems. The Department of Public Safety regional system was rocked by its own scandal a few years ago, and is now plagued by tremendous backlogs that result in justice being denied for the innocent and needlessly delayed for the guilty. The DPS actually hired a terminated DNA supervisor whom even HPD found was unsuitable after it was revealed she helped technicians "excel" on their proficiency exams. In some of the surrounding counties, questionable dog-scent evidence is being used to convict people, and some of these defendants are now suing the counties that held them based upon this type of junk science. These mistakes cost the taxpayers millions in case reviews, and retesting and lawyer fees for cases that should have been done right the first time. They have also resulted in grave injustice and false imprisonment, as HPD's own internal disciplinary records have shown.
Enough is enough. Although this is admittedly a difficult budget year, either the state of Texas in the upcoming legislative session or the regional counties and cities should come together and simply remove all handling of forensic evidence from law enforcement once and for all. Our leaders should create a regional crime lab, actually run by scientists, perhaps under a university, and not under any elected sheriff or appointed law enforcement officer, that can run actual, neutral and competent forensic testing untainted by pressure and uncorrupted by malfeasance or negligence. The people accused of crimes are owed that much. We as taxpayers are owed that much.
It is time for us to end this round robin of scandal and put science where it belongs - in the hands of independent scientists whose only goal is the truth.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Make crime labs independent from law enforcement
News of serious problems at the Houston PD fingerprint lab prompted attorney Patrick McCann to author a thoughtful column in the Houston Chronicle ("Let's get experts to test evidence," June 26) that advocates making crime labs independent from law enforcement. The article concludes: