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After HPD Crime Lab Issues, Houston Forensic Science Center Focuses On Timely Accurate Results

A decade ago, serious problems with the Houston Police Department crime lab jeopardized the prosecution of many cases. To solve the issue, officials created a new, independent lab which opened last year. So how is that new facility doing?

Anything from the body left at a crime scene, no matter how small, will contain the person’s genetic information, or DNA.

“It used to take the size of a quarter or a dime, to get a DNA result from a stain, of a blood stain. Now it takes the size of a pinhead,” said Irma Rios director of the Forensic Analysis Division for the Houston Forensic Science Center.

That evidence can be critical in solving crimes.  Rios remembers how things used to be when the crime lab was under the Houston Police Department.

“There were a lot of challenges. We had a different mission with the police department, and a different mission for the crime lab. Our mission is to process evidence in an accurate manner, in a timely manner. And the mission of the police department is slightly different,” said Rios.

Rick DeToto, a former Houston prosecutor turned defense attorney, says problems involving crime labs affect the judicial process.

“We know it does exist through the HPD crime lab. We know that some of the people that weren’t certified to be giving breath tests and testing blood. There’s got be something done about this, and I think we start with independent crime labs,” said DeToto.

Testing was temporarily suspended in 2002, after an audit found unqualified personnel, inadequate facilities and shoddy storage that had tainted evidence. City leaders created a local government corporation to separate crime lab testing from HPD.

Daniel Garner heads the Houston Forensic Science Center, which officially opened in 2014. He says managers help eliminate any problems, like those seen in the previous lab.

“People will know when there’s been a problem. We will be public about it. That’s just the way our board has set us up to be. But the problems have been addressed remarkably well,” said Garner.

Since crime lab analysis is available to both the prosecution and defense, Garner says it is important that it maintains its independence.

“We’re going to present good science for the attorneys. How they use it, it’s up to them. They’re in an adversarial position, we’re not,” said Garner.

He says their focus will be on producing high quality science in a timely manner.

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