Austin Police Close Down DNA Lab Due to Shortage of Trained Staff


DNA is seen as the holy grail of evidence gathering. If DNA at a crime scene matches a defendant’s, it’s usually treated as concrete evidence of guilt.

But recent revelations in Texas and elsewhere about the reliability of DNA evidence undermine its ability to give an exact match.

DNA is the hold grail of criminal evidence

In Austin, concerns about the lack of a properly trained staff closed the DNA lab.

The temporary shutdown was noted in the Statesman. Austin Police Department ordered the closure amid fears raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission about the lack of properly trained supervision and the requirement for staff to learn a new federally required way of verifying DNA evidence.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo referred to a lack of trained staff after the death of the lab director. The lab may be closed for the rest of the year. He admitted the lab struggled to stay up to date with new DNA standards.

Problems with DNA evidence became more apparent over the last two years. The FBI told crime labs across the nation that it discovered mistakes in data used by forensic scientists. These errors related to the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matched a particular person in thousands of cases the Washington Post reported.

Problems with DNA Date Back More than 15 Years

The FBI traced these mistakes back to 1999. It concluded these errors were unlikely to lead to dramatic changes that would affect the outcomes of cases. That initial optimism was later undermined.

Jurors were told the chances that a piece of genetic material belonged to anyone other than the defendant if there was a DNA match was one in more than a billion. In fact, the odds were more like one in 100 in many cases. It’s a significant difference.

In Travis County, prosecutors joined a major statewide effort to re-evaluate cases affected by the miscalculations. However, the Austin Police Department’s crime lab fell behind. It faces recalculating statistics on about half of almost 1,300 Travis County cases. The lab was validating new software and updating its protocols when it was hit by the shutdown, the Statesman reported.

The lab’s backlog of cases awaiting analysis increased by about 1,300, the highest in the past five years.

The Austin crime lab has been dogged by problems over the last few years. In 2015, Austin police announced that they would be revisiting 123 crime victims after a technician failed to properly record evidence from the crime scenes, KXAN reported.

At Peek Law Group , many of our success stories have involved evidence being exposed as suspect or bogus.

The recent issues in evidence gathering have made it clear that you may not be guilty just because DNA evidence points to it. Our expert Austin criminal attorneys can make sure that no stone is unturned in highlighting the deficiencies in the prosecution case. Call us for a consultation at (512) 399-2311.

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