Backlog of Rape Kit Testing in Austin and Elsewhere Impedes Justice


In 2011, Texas became only the second state in the nation to pass legislation that required law enforcement agencies to count and test the backlog of untested rape kits in their storage facilities. Five years on, the backlog remains substantial creating concerns it could impede the administration of justice.

This month, the Washington Times reported on concerns raised by the backlog in DNA testing at labs across Texas.

While inroads have been made in the testing of rape kits, problems that the FBI identified last year in DNA testing have led to a re-evaluation of many cases.

Rape kit backlog is impeding justice

Crime labs across the country were told by the FBI that they are using outdated methods that were overstating the accuracy of DNA tests. For years, prosecutors have lauded DNA as an infallible test. However, labs were examining samples containing genetic material from a number of people and overstating the reliability of the tests, the Washington Times reported.

While prosecutors in Travis County are part of that massive national effort to re-evaluate cases, Austin Police Department’s crime lab, is still in the laborious process of testing new software and updating protocols. It will have to perform new calculations on about half of the 1,297 cases identified to date in Travis County, the Washington Times reported.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the expansion of testing for property crimes has served to fuel a backlog of 4,600 DNA cases, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The backlog has impacted the Harris County crime lab’s ability to promptly process evidence for sexual assaults and even homicides, the Chronicle reported.

The lab serves more than 60 law enforcement agencies. The county has a 60 day goal for the processing of sexual assault cases, but processing is taking as long as 172 days to complete, the report stated.

Clete Snell, a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, said the delays were undermining public confidence, postponing trials and meaning wrongly convicted defendants are languishing in jail longer as they wait for the results of the DNA tests that would clear them.

A report in the Amarillo Globe News in March said the city’s police department still has more than 800 untested rape kits that date back to the 1990s.  Police say complying with the 2011 law is draining resources.

As of early 2013, Texas had about 15,900 untested rape kits.

DNA evidence is crucial, particularly when gathering evidence for sexual offenses or family violence, where false allegations are frequently made.  The recent problems with DNA testing and the backlog in testing has undermined confidence in the criminal justice system in Texas and has surely condemned more innocent people to additional time behind bars.

If you have been charged with rape or another sexual offense or any violent offense, you could lose your good name and face a heavy custodial sentence. It’s imperative to hire a knowledgeable and experienced criminal attorney to defend you. Please contact our office at  (512) 399-2311

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