StandDown Texas Project

The StandDown Texas Project identifies and advocates best practices in the criminal justice system. To stand down is to go off duty temporarily, especially to review safety procedures. That is what Texas needs to do with its death penalty.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Houston Crime Lab Mess

For the last year and a half, the Houston Police Department's crime lab has been in the midst of a total implosion. Serious problems were discovered in how DNA was stored and analyzed. Other areas of the lab are now being scrutinized.

Already one person, Josiah Sutton, has been exonerated, released, and pardoned after spending four years in the Texas prisons for a crime he did not commit. Throughout this time the Harris County District Attorney's office has blocked calls for an independent investigation. That may be about to change.

Lost evidence involving thousands of cases has now been discovered in mislabeled storage boxes, and this discovery may be the straw that broke the camel's back. Today's New York Times and Houston Chronicle both had stories. You can view them at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/27/national/27lab.html
http://www.chron.com/CDA/umstory.mpl/metropolitan/2762448

The Houston Chronicle deserves commendations for aggressively reporting this story. You can view the archive of news articles, columns and editorials at: http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/special/03/crimelab/index.html

Perhaps the most important point to remember is that this scandal is not unique. Other crime labs across the nation have had similar problems, and at least one of the Texas Department of Public Safety's regional crime labs has also been under investigation.




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