Sunday, August 18, 2013

Budget cuts at McLennan DA due to plea-bargain policies, not expert testimony costs

After enduring budget cuts for the second second year, the McLennan County DA Abel Reyna is dipping into his asset forfeiture fund to pay for expert testimony and outside lab testing, reported the Waco Tribune Herald ("DA sees rise in costs for testimony, evidence analysis," Aug. 17).
The district attorney’s original 2014 requested budget was more than $4 million. After the cuts, the proposed budget is 
$3.9 million.

But an increase in costs for evidence testing and professional testimony could drain those accounts and Reyna said using forfeiture money is only a temporary solution to pay for his office.

The Texas Department of Public Safety’s Waco crime lab does all forensic evidence testing for free for the district attorney’s office, but Reyna said the DPS 
also is feeling the strain of budget cuts and sometimes can’t return evidence in time for a trial. This forces Reyna to use a private company in Dallas to 
process evidence.
County auditor’s office spokeswoman Frances Bartlett said the district attorney’s office spent $1,000 on evidence analysis in 2011.

The district attorney’s office didn’t spend any money on evidence analysis in 2012, but already has spent about $8,000 on testing in the 2013 fiscal year.

That amount is expected to increase.

“The law is pretty clear on what you’re supposed to do. The bottom line is, it’s a protection against 20 years later having to get it tested,” Sims said.

County records also show professional testimony expenses have more than tripled since 2011.

The district attorney’s office spent $13,000 for professional testimony in 2011, and $24,000 in 2012. Costs jumped again in 2013 when the district attorney’s office spent almost $42,000 for expert opinions.
Reyna said the jump in these costs is almost entirely from caseload growth.

Because of the rise in trial cases — 46 in 2010 and 70 in 2012 — the need for expert testimonies has increased, he explained.
As Grits pointed out in the comments, while DPS crime labs do face strains from expanding caseloads, it's simply false that the agency's crime-lab budget was cut. In recent years it has dramatically expanded. The real cause of the increased costs for expert testimony and lab work, which seem like small potatoes compared to the department's overall budget, is that final stat on the increase in cases going to trial. Reyna's ill-considered plea-bargain policies boosted costs at the county jail which put the squeeze on the commissioners court to reduce his budget. The McLennan DA has been hoisted by his own petard.


Anonymous said...

Think how much they could trim from the budget if the DA would offer a plea bargain on every case of: time served on a reduced to class "c" charge!

Gadfly said...

Yeah, he's both ridiculous and stubborn. If he's still refusing to take the hint, commissioners should slash his budget even more next year.

Anonymous said...

Compare McLennan County's prosecution and crime rate with neighboring Bell County's prosecution and crime rate and McLennan County is an overall safer place to live. I'd happily switch district attorneys as Bell County's DA Garza is poor at best.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're setting the bar mighty low, 5:13.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

We need to vote people like this out of office!

Anonymous said...

Awe snap! say it aint so. This tid-bit means that we just might have to buy new calculators.

The type that includes the button for Real Time Plea Bargain Rates. Anyone with spare time on their hands is asked to crunch the new numbers and reveal the new percentage rate(s) of both: trials to verdict & denied a full jury trial to verdict due to being on probation legal advice.