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On television, an amazing number of cop shows succeed in drawing large audiences: series and spin-offs where handsome men and beautiful women work hard in scientific labs to produce iron-clad evidence that convicts the bad guy. They rival the popularity of courtroom dramas where dedicated district attorneys battle the odds to put evildoers behind bars. Often, you’ll see the criminal defense lawyer portrayed as absent, incompetent, or unethical.

It’s all great entertainment, but it’s not reality.

Here in Texas, there’s lots of real-life drama in our criminal courtrooms, because right now Justice is endangered. Why? Unlike television fiction, the reality in Texas is that evidence used in criminal prosecutions is often unreliable and in some shocking instances, either faked or hidden by the very prosecutors who are sworn to honor the system and pursue justice.

All too often, evidence offered up to charge or convict people in Texas is simply untrustworthy and not deserving of any assumption of reliability. As most experienced Texas criminal defense lawyers know, evidence used to meet the burden of proof in a criminal case can be faked, hidden, missing, or tainted.

crime scene, evidence, evidence collection, crime lab, police lab, crime lab

Today’s reality is that evidence collected at a crime scene by law enforcement doesn’t guarantee reliability or accuracy in criminal defense trials.

DNA Evidence Can Be Faked

Few realize that DNA evidence can be fabricated. However, it’s a scientific reality that DNA can be located on a database and then replicated in a lab.

Recently, fake DNA evidence was not only proven, but demonstrated, in an Israeli study where scientists in Tel Aviv not only (1) created brand new samples of both blood and saliva that had the same DNA as Person B, while they got their original blood and spit samples from Person A; they also (2) showed how they could look up someone’s DNA profile in a database, and using that info they could then create a DNA sample of that exact same DNA, while never having any real, human tissue from the person whose DNA profile they had obtained from the database.

Fingerprint Evidence Cannot Be Trusted

In 2009, the Houston Police Department was investigated for incompetency in its fingerprinting comparison unit, with one employee being investigated for misconduct involving how a piece of evidence was handled. The investigation began after questions were raised and an audit revealed over 50% of the randomly selected cases where HPD fingerprint analysis was involved had problems.

Houston Mayor Bill White announced that criminals may have gone free because of fingerprint errors within the HPD fingerprint lab; however, no one was pointing out at the time that the fingerprint unit may have overlooked fingerprints or wrongfully analyzed fingerprint evidence that resulted in wrongful convictions.

As part of this investigation into the Houston Police Department fingerprint analysis department, the Houston Chronicle interviewed a fingerprint evidence expert at the University of California at Los Angeles law school, who shared:

1. Fingerprint analysis has few national standards to be used by all forensic labs, which means that one lab may conclude one result and another lab might look at the same fingerprint and reach a different result.
2. Strangers can have almost identical fingerprints. It is a fallacy that every individual has a truly unique fingerprint, and there is not enough research done at present to determine exactly how similar the fingerprints of two strangers can be.
3. Fingerprint labs are not the same as other kinds of scientific laboratories and do not need to have the same accreditation. Only a handful of Texas fingerprint labs have been certified (as ASCLD-LAB).

Houston DPS Crime Lab Analyst Trading Out Lab Results Puts 1000s of Convictions into Question

One man working in one crime lab can cause tremendous damage. This has been proven in the example of a single crime lab analyst named Jonathan Salvador, who worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety crime laboratory in Harris County. His work has been investigated and findings about the harm that Salvador has brought to the entire Texas criminal justice system was delineated in an official report from the Texas Forensic Science Commission with contributions from the Texas Rangers and the Office of the Inspector General.

There, crime lab analyst Jonathan Salvador’s forensic lab results, which were used as evidence in lots and lots of criminal trials, were deemed unreliable and flawed, putting thousands (1000s) of convictions into question. Now, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is dealing with the aftermath of this forensic fiasco, with convictions being overturned because of files showing that Salvador’s forensic crime lab results were part of the prosecution’s case, resulting in a due process violation (see, e.g., Ex Parte Junius Sereal.)

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