Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Texas DNA testing backlog may be helped by federal grant

Speaking of crime labs, the national Innocence Project's blog reports on a rebellion in Arizona by localities against new crime lab fees, noting in the same post that:
Lab backlogs are hurting police investigations in Texas, as well. Results from state labs can take months.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley explains that in today's 'CSI world' where jurors see scientific evidence easily gleaned from most crime scenes in TV dramas, they expect to see the same in court cases. But because there are so many requests for testing, and too few state technicians to keep up with demand, he says, "When you ask for DNA testing and results, you're buying in to a six month to one year delay in your case."

Read the full story here. (KEYE TV, 11/06/08)
Federal assistance should help to defuse the crisis somewhat in Arizona and Texas. The two states, along with Washington, Kentucky and Virginia, recently received a combined $7.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to help with DNA testing in serious felony cases. The DOJ’s grant program requires states to comply with standards for storage and testing of evidence, and also to significantly reduce backlogs through improved training and technology. Read more about the DOJ grant program here.
The KEYE story adds, "Bradley says typically about a third of his case load sits for long periods of time awaiting DPS lab results. As his file cabinets fill up with cases, the county jail is getting more crowded, too. And that’s costing not just time, but money."

These backlogs are a problem that will get worse regardless of the outcome of the Melendez-Diaz case, in part because of the advent of "touch DNA" which promises DNA testing will be possible in many more cases in the future.

Even if backlogs are rising, though, that's no excuse for loosening up controls designed to vet evidence (like confronting lab experts at trial). The justice system has become incredibly reliant on crime labs, and the fact is they haven't always merited the great trust the system puts in them.

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