The department sent a letter to law enforcement and district attorneys statewide announcing the changes that limit the DNA and drug testing crime lab technicians will perform.
Controlled substance and blood alcohol cases have increased by nearly 500 percent within the past six years in the 13 crime lab facilities in Texas, according to an Aug. 6 letter.
Because of this, the labs cannot conduct the test reports in a timely manner, the letter states.
Starting next month, the labs will not test certain quantities and types of drugs in misdemeanor cases including suspected marijuana or synthetic marijuana less than 4 ounces, an array of prescription pills less than an ounce or identifiable prescription pills.
The department doesn't want law enforcement to send those misdemeanor cases unless a prosecutor specifically requests the lab reports for trial. ...
Another letter sent to various law enforcement explained crime lab analysts also will soon restrict the amounts of DNA per case they will test.
The policy change, which also went into effect Saturday, include only two DNA tests for each burglary offense and 10 for each homicide.
"In a murder scene you may have hundreds of pieces of evidence and now we're limited to send our top 10," Corpus Christi Police Capt. Billy Breedlove said.That doesn't mean, of course, that more testing can't be done. Some larger agencies have their own crime labs, and others use fee-for-service labs where they can send as much evidence for testing as they can afford.
Still, it's notable that, despite massive recent crime-lab expansions, DPS has basically raised the white flag. Their model of providing unlimited, free crime lab services for local jurisdictions is fundamentally untenable. I'm frankly surprised it took this long to recognize it.
Coincidentally, since I hadn't yet seen this report, just yesterday Grits had opined that, "DPS' 'free for everybody' model creates false incentives and is IMO unsustainable as demand for crime lab services is growing much faster than the actual crime rate. Switching to a fee for service model would rationalize the process from a budget perspective and stop taxpayers in jurisdictions with their own crime labs from subsidizing the rest of the state. It's probably something the Legislature should consider next session." This news makes me think that suggestion is more ripe, even, than I'd suspected. There's nothing "free" about the criminal justice system, and for crime labs it's probably time to shift to a pay-as-you-go approach before backlogs get even worse.