This week a former employee of the Austin Police Department's crime lab filed a complaint with authorities claiming, the Austin American Statesman reports, "lab administrators do not have proper accreditation and that drug evidence was not analyzed before reports were submitted." According to her, people have been sent to jail on the word of the unqualified and the dishonest. A lay person may wonder how this could happen, if it did. The short answer is an unwillingness by many in the criminal justice system to pull back the curtain on the wizard.
Most lab results of drug or blood alcohol testing communicated to a prosecutor's office and made available to defense counsel consist of a single sheet of paper with the accused's name, case number, lab tracking number, numerical result, and the signature of the analyst and their supervisor. That's it. A conclusion with no supporting documentation. To get even the most basic supporting documentation, for example the chromatogram in a blood alcohol test, a lawyer has to be diligent and issue a subpoena, file a motion for discovery, or make an open records act request or a combination of the three, then get ready to fight.
Despite the history of problems in the Houston Police Department's crime lab,
BAT vans, and more
recent revelations about another lab in El Paso, among
others, many local prosecutors and judges are still reluctant to agree to or grant thorough discovery motions allowing defendants and their attorneys to identify and examine the procedures and processes used to obtain the so-called scientific evidence of guilt. Some judges are even more reluctant to appoint funds for indigents to have experts review the records obtained. So much for the Reagan era attitude of "trust, but verify." But then its usually the individual or group whose freedom depends upon accuracy that is most motivated to verify. In the criminal justice system, that's the accused and no one else.
Update: The whistleblower speaks with an Austin tv station.