Monday, May 02, 2011

'The DNA's Over There... Right Next to the Jelly: The Problems with the Preservation of Evidence in Texas'

The headline of this post is the title to a note in the Texas Tech Administrative Law Journal by Danielle Badeaux, described on SSRN as follows:
In “The DNA’s Over There… Right Next to the Jelly: The Problems with the Preservation of Evidence in Texas,” author Danielle Badeaux discusses the embarrassments that result from Texas’s preservation and storage methods for DNA materials. First the author argues that the ambiguities in the statutes governing DNA evidence lead to confusion. The article next describes the loss of evidence due to misplacement, mishandling, and degradation of samples that were preserved incorrectly. Additionally, the author examines how Texas’s guidelines for evidence retention make it almost impossible to appeal for testing of the evidence if more than a decade has passed.

Badeaux proposes several changes to make the system more efficient. First, the author argues that other states have statutes in place that make the guidelines much more specific and remove much of the ambiguity and confusion present in the Texas statutes. Next, she states that Texas could also revise the statutes that are currently in place to remove confusion. Finally, Badeaux suggests that Texas could leave preservation efforts up to each individual county and require that they have preservation methods in place.
According to the note, Texas law "does not clarify what constitutes biological evidence, who maintains preservation of evidence, who maintains responsibility for ensuring compliance with the statute, or how to preserve the evidence. Moreover, outside the context of biological evidence, Texas does very little to ensure the preservation of evidence."

Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo comes off as a hero in the story, pushing to improve evidence retention in Longview despite strong resistance from local officials who ultimately thwarted his efforts. When Primo began calling other jurisdictions about their practices: "Some of the counties he phoned had no preservation policies at all, while other counties were preserving evidence by sticking it on unused, empty shelves. The prevailing theme was that many of these counties had no idea who should store this evidence. As a result, they had no actual record of the location of the evidence. As Primo pointed out, this posed a significant problem when county officials began to retire."

When Primo looked into what was going on in his own county, "he discovered the biological evidence stored in a mini-fridge. The biological evidence sat next to cokes and candy bars. The refrigerator had no padlock on it. No log existed for people who dealt with the evidence. The office door had no lock. No one monitored the temperature, and no one secured the office." Badeux suggests minimalist standards requiring storage at sufficiently cold temperatures, making technicians wear gloves, and requiring a written log should be added to Texas evidence preservation statutes.

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1 comment:

Chris Halkides said...

I gave a presentation on a case in Italy in which a key piece of evidence had decayed so much in three years of storage that it could no longer be retested. A member of the audience asked in effect whether all evidence needed to be stored and how much it would cost. It seems to me that however much it does cost to store evidence, we have to ante up in the interest of fairness.