After a year of problems at the Houston Police Department’s crime laboratory, 2004 could be a more difficult one for the department’s forensic divisions, the Houston Chronicle reports. At least two Houston-area lawmakers may seek to force the city, the county, and the rest of Texas to agree on a plan for regional crime labs.
Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier says Houston’s Harris County criminal justice system could face a litigation “nightmare” because of the possibility of a lack of evidence to retest cases processed by the now-closed toxicology division of the Houston police crime lab. “Depending on the drug that they tested for, depending on whether it was a blood sample or a urine sample, depending on how it was stored, the condition of the sample, and how much sample, some of this stuff may not even be viable for retesting,” Munier said. “So the potential for the legal fallout on these toxicology cases may be even more of a legal nightmare” than the HPD DNA lab.
In October, HPD acting Chief Joe Breshears closed the department’s toxicology lab, which tests blood and urine for drugs and alcohol, after a supervisor failed a competency test.
To date, DNA retests alone have cost the city more than $1.1 million. With less than $240,000 remaining from more than $1 million in contracts awarded to three private labs to retest evidence, the effort promises to cost more into the new year.