The Future of Austin's DNA Crime Lab

Strengthening the Validity of Scientific Tests Performed in Cases

Science is the basis for many convictions in Texas and throughout the country. With the fate of countless individuals depending on DNA crime lab results, it’s imperative that the process be effective and the results accurate. Unfortunately, despite the necessity of reliable practices, some labs have fallen short.

The Problem

In 2016, a state audit revealed that Austin’s DNA crime lab was performing in a way that was not scientifically sound. The Texas Forensic Science Commission found the following issues:

  • The lab adopted procedures unaccepted by the scientific community
  • Policies within the lab gave way to confirmation bias in interpreting data
  • Likelihood of DNA contamination
  • Use of expired materials to conduct tests

Texas acted swiftly to suspend these unacceptable practices with a goal to rebuild it in accordance with expected scientific protocols.

The Solution

The city of Austin worked with Travis County to create a DNA Interlocal Agreement. Approved by the Council in March of 2017, the plan provided a temporary solution for the facility with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

While strengthening the operations within the lab, a “look back” review was completed to identify key issues and address them as the groups looked towards the future. To do so, they studied relevant documents and spoke with stakeholders and DNA laboratory best practice experts. In the end, they provided 57 reasons for the failure of the facility, along with 87 recommendations to improve it.

Moving forward, the task force addressed the question of whether the lab should work alongside or independently of local government.

The Future

Beyond rebuilding the laboratory, the present and future necessitate a dedicated attention to addressing cases mishandled while the facility’s practices were inaccurate. The Travis County district attorney has alerted more than 1,000 defendants whose case evidence is now being questioned. This matter is currently being handled by Capital Area Private Defender Service’s forensic team.

For more information about mishandled evidence, call The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC: (956) 606-3606.