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Crime lab legislation goes to Governor Perry

AUSTIN – Legislation authored by State Representative Kevin Bailey, D-North Houston, requiring accreditation of Crime Labs has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

Bailey, Chairman of the Texas House of Representatives General Investigating Committee, held a number of public hearings to take testimony from invited witnesses to ascertain the extent of the problems with the Houston Police Department (HPD) Crime Lab before filing the legislation.

Bailey’ s legislation requires that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) establish an accreditation process for crime laboratories, including DNA laboratories, and other entities conducting forensic analyses of physical evidence for use in criminal proceedings. Physical evidence subjected to forensic analysis and testimony regarding evidence will not be admissible in a criminal court if, at the time of analysis the crime laboratory is not accredited by DPS.

The legislation will now go to the Governor. Since it was sent to the Governor within 10 days of final adjournment of the legislature on June 2, the Governor has until Sunday, June 22 to sign the legislation, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

On Monday, May 26, the Texas Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2703, authored by State Representative Kevin Bailey and sponsored by State Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Houston). The bill requires that the director of the Department of Public Safety establish an accreditation process for Texas crime laboratories.

The bill’s passage is in response to the controversy surrounding the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Of Texas’ 19 labs, is among the three that are not accredited.

“I am proud to have partnered with Rep. Bailey on this bill to try to restore confidence in our criminal justice system, Sen. Gallegos said. “Upon investigation of negligence by the Houston Crime Lab, over 500 cases have been reopened, evidence retesting has been reordered in nearly 200 cases, and several individuals convicted based on faulty DNA data have been set free on charges such as rape and capital murder.”

Since October 1996, the HPD Crime Lab has been experiencing tremendous problems with the DNA evidence testing and examination operations. Most recently, an independent audit of the Houston Crime Lab details a wide range of deficiencies in the DNA analysis section – from the potential for evidence contamination to a lack of basic record keeping.

“While House Bill 2703 does not correct the serious existing problems with the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, it will insure that laboratories operating in Texas will be accredited and that any problems in a lab will be easier to spot during internal and external audits,” Rep. Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) said.

The HPD Crime Lab has not conducted the mandatory in-depth internal or external audits that accredited laboratories conduct each year to assure that accurate evidence testing, examinations, and procedures are being followed.

“To correct these problems, HB 2703 requires accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors,” Sen. Gallegos said. “It specifies that physical evidence subjected to forensic analysis and testimony by any lab is not admissible unless the lab is approved by DPS to be accredited or until September 1, 2005, if a second DNA sample is preserved.”

The bill’s passage is contingent on the signature of Governor Rick Perry.