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Fighting forensic evidence may be easier than you think

Thanks to television and movies, most people think that forensic evidence can pinpoint a murderer's actions and identity with laser-like precision. The grim reality is that there's a lot of flawed forensics going on in the nation's labs -- particularly in Houston.

The latest forensic lab scandal puts 65 more Houston criminal cases in question -- cases that include homicides and officer-involved shootings going back to 2015. All of the new errors seem to be at the hands of just one investigator.

An audit found that the investigator failed to do some of the most basic tasks, like collecting blood evidence, looking for shell casings, collecting weapons for testing or photographing the crime scene. In one instance, the investigator refused to take photos at a crime scene because he didn't want to risk contaminating his camera. He also skipped taking DNA swabs from suspects and left behind or lost important evidence.

This is actually just one of a string of troubling and sometimes bizarre events that have unfolded at the Houston crime lab in the last few years. The lab has seen revelations that evidence was routinely destroyed, a toxicology expert resigned after it was discovered she had falsified her qualification and a sprinkler malfunction may have irrevocably damaged up to 15,000 pieces of evidence belonging to more than 4,200 separate criminal cases.

Part of the problem is that not all forensic technicians in Houston are actually technicians -- many of them are police officers who have been used to fill gaps in the staff. They're often poorly trained and poorly supervised. Reforms to the crime lab are underway, including hiring more civilian experts, but there are still 13 officers currently working forensics without the adequate training that they need.

That's why you can't be afraid to fight forensic evidence in court if the charges against you are serious. Your attorney can challenge the evidence based on issues with proper collection, chain of custody or the technician's actual qualifications to be doing the job -- just as a start. For more information on how forensic evidence can be challenged as part of a criminal defense, talk to an attorney today.

Source: Chron.com, "Crime-scene errors put 65 cases under review, audit finds," Brian Rogers, Cindy George, Keri Blankinger, and St. John Barnaed-Smith, April 12, 2017

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