The police make thousands of arrests every year, and your liberty relies on the state’s labs to properly store, keep track of and analyze lab samples. People are convicted of DWI and more serious offenses like intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter based on these lab samples.
But what if the police mishandled your evidence? What if their lab work was being questioned from the inside?
Well, that’s exactly what’s been happening in Austin over the past few months. A bizarre turn of events has thousands of Texas DWI convictions called into doubt.
As ever curiously lawyers, we’re bringing your the 5 W’s of this case and how we think it should effect prior convictions.
The who in this case has three sides. First, the Austin Police Department Crime Lab. They’re the main antagonist.
Second, former Austin Police Department Crime Lab worker, Debra Stephens. And finally, thousands of Texas DWI offenders in Austin.
Debra Stephens sent a letter to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, alleging that the crime lab’s blood-alcohol analysis methods weren’t complying with industry standards.
Stephens had made such a claim before during her prior employment, but nothing came of her claims.
Her recent letter is quoted as saying:
“The laboratory is incorrectly reporting results using a statistical approach not used by other forensic laboratories. I believe their method validation procedure and estimation of measurement uncertainty has been incorrectly determined and reported… the blood alcohol procedure should be reviewed and updated to follow current scientific techniques.”
Essentially, she’s calling into question the margin of error, which could prove the differential between guilty and not guilty in some cases.
Her letter got enough reaction that Court Attorney (Prosecution) David Escamilla requested a recess during an active DWI trial to examine the letter.
The court attorney’s office then forwarded the letter to local defense attorneys, altering them to evidence that may affect local cases.
This case is currently unfolding. It first hit the news in early December but hasn’t seen any resolution.
Where & Why
The allegations are that improper scientific methods are being used at the Austin Police Department Crime Lab.
This calls into question any other DWI arrests made during the alleged time period.
What the city is looking at, should a review validate Stephens’ claims, is over turning thousands of Texas DWI convictions.
What Does This Mean For Austin Texas DWI?
It reflects poorly upon the Austin Police Crime Lab and the local District Attorney for using questionable lab results.
The court system is also still using the questioned lab when we feel it should have been temporarily closed for inspection.
Certainly, if these alligations are true, it will create chaos for the court system. We can only imagine the outrage from the local DWI defense community.
Our personal views are that any cases called into doubt should be re-examined at the very least.
Arguing “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a delicate subject and requires a jury for determination.
It’s arguable that any plea bargains made during this time period are deals made under false pretense, and that’s a dangerous thing indeed.