Friday, March 15, 2013

The Weakest Link: TDCAA agrees nearly 5,000 cases "may all be jeopardized" by DPS lab worker misconduct

On Wednesday, Grits reported that potentially all of the 4,944 cases worked by a since-discredited DPS crime lab worker may be thrown out, and this morning an appellate case summary posted at the prosecutors' association agreed that those cases "may all be jeopardized." From the Texas District and County Attorneys Association's March 15 Weekly Case Summary:

Ex parte Sereal

No. AP 76,972        3/6/13 (per curiam; substitute opinion)
Was the defendant entitled to habeas relief because the lab technician solely responsible for testing the evidence in his case was found to have committed misconduct?
Yes. Although there is evidence remaining that is available to be retested in this case, that evidence was in the custody of the unreliable lab technician. Because the technician committed misconduct and his actions are unreliable, custody was compromised and resulted in a due process violation.
Read opinion
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This one analyst handled thousands of cases in the Houston area, and due to the breadth of the opinion, they may all be jeopardized. Situations like this, and caselaw such as Melendez-Diaz and Bullcoming demonstrate that the Legislature perhaps needs to increase crime lab funding so that two analysts can work each case rather than one.
Notably, budget writers in the Texas House and Senate haven't even contemplated increasing DPS crime lab funding "so that two analysts can work each case rather than one." Why would they? If they rely on the MSM for news, none of this has been reported anywhere except Grits. Chuck Lindell at the Austin Statesman has begun poking his nose into the subject, but otherwise, MSM reporters, where the hell are you on this one?

See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

This DPS lab situation, and the legislature's seeming indifference, is especially troubling to those of us who toil in the criminal justice trenches on a daily basis. While the legislators spend their time and energy fixating on "feel good" measures such as the unfunded Innocence Commission and types of grievances which can be filed against prosecutors, the entire infrastructure of our criminal justice system is starving for additional funding to the point of collapse. I could go on an on. Inadequate funding for crime labs, indigent defense, meaningful community supervision rehab programs, legitimate mental health services for persons charged with crimes, adequate prison health care, prison guard salaries, etc., etc., etc..
There are major improvements to the system which could be made which would significantly reduce the potential for wrongful convictions, divert many criminal defendants from incarceration, and improve the likelihood of meaningful rehabilitation for those who are incarcerated--if only the legislature would seriously address these issues.

Hopefully, the mainstream media will begin to look at this problem. Out of these 5000 cases, many are likely just users or addicts who either went on probation or were possibly sent to State Jail. Unfortunately, there are going to be a significant percentage who are MAJOR drug dealers serving LENGTHY prison sentences. There is the very real potential that these big time dealers could be released back into the very communities they originally preyed upon in the not to distant future. I wonder how the public is going to feel about that when word eventually gets out and who, if anyone, will ultimately be held accountable?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not sure they're "indifferent." Except for a few who read this blog, none of them know about it!

Anonymous said...

Point well taken, Grits. I'm guessing the folks over at DPS haven't exactly been bragging about this debacle.

Anonymous said...

FYI, Mr. Sereal was found guilty of possession of four or more but less than 200 grams of cocaine with intent to deliver and, after finding two enhancement paragraphs true, was assessed punishment of thirty-two years’ confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:03 writes, "I'm guessing the folks over at DPS haven't exactly been bragging about this debacle."

If they've issued a press release, I didn't get one. ;)

@3:47, Sereal is probably walking the streets by now, or will be soon, because DPS wasn't running a tighter ship. In Massachusetts there are supposedly 34,000 cases implicated in a similar fiasco. It's inevitable some bad folks will get out, plus many more workaday users busted for possession. This is what happens when government tries to run a drug war at high volumes but isn't willing to adequately fund the work.

Anonymous said...

It's better that this happened with drug cases & not murders, robberies and rapes. Then we would really have something to worry about.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said... "I'm guessing the folks over at DPS haven't exactly been bragging about this debacle." If they've issued a press release, I didn't get one.

A few days ago you wondered why the MSM wasn't running the story? I contacted six newspapers and the Austin Statesman was the only one that contacted me back within an hour. They didn't have a clue about the news story. They said their policy was they would cover it, if it was in the Austin area. Otherwise they wait for a "news feed" be sent to them from another source that's covering the story in another part of Texas.

I told the "investigation news team at the Statesman, all you had to do walk across the street to the main Texas DPS office building in Austin, do your so called job and ask the questions to get your story going.

I will say the investigator reporter at the Statesman was really nice, it just seemed his hands were tied on what he could report to the public, even tho a corrupt agency "DPS" had put so many people lives in danger.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, 9:38, you rock!

Everybody seems to think it's the other guy's job.

Anonymous said...

what is going to happen to the lab worker? I hear erroneous, misconduct, faked, this tech going to go to jail for tampering with evidence? if this person gets off I will ...I don't much wrong.

Anonymous said...

we don't know that its not! innocent people are convicted too often just because they want to blame soneone., even if its the wrong person.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:17, he was terminated from his job but to my knowledge there have been no grand jury proceedings or charges filed. Read the background in this post. The consensus from those at DPS and the FSC who've looked at the case more closely than me is that he was more incompetent than venal. According to the discussion at the FSC, he didn't know how to perform the proper tests on Alprazolam tablets, for example, and because he supposedly wanted to conceal inadequacy from his supervisors he allegedly copied test results from another batch in the episode that got him found out.

The lab worker in Massachusetts, by comparison, was much more just in bed with the prosecutors and allegedly, actively framed people including sprinkling cocaine and heroin on samples to get a positive. Salvador doesn't appear - from what I know - to have been in the bag for prosecutors in quite the same way. That said, the FSC investigation is ongoing and there's still a lot we don't know yet. Their meeting on April 5 - where they go over the draft report that will be released in September line by line - should reveal a lot more. Hopefully there will be reporters at the meeting to cover it. If not, I guess it will be another Grits exclusive! :)

Thomas R. Griffith said...

No Grits, you rock!

You are the one that takes time to post or expound on what they refused to. Doing so, on behalf of the public at large, pro-bono I might add on a daily basis.

And you put your name on it. Thanks a million for all that 'you' do on behalf of others.