Crime Lab Chronicles
City memo updates on troubled DNA lab's progress
The city and county are moving toward a resolution over what to do with the Austin Police Department's forensics lab. In a memo sent to the mayor and City Council on Friday, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano requested the DNA lab's interlocal agreement (ILA)between Austin and Travis County be extended for another year, with the option of extending it annually through September of 2022. Council will consider the request at their Aug. 30 meeting.
The two entities reached their agreement last March, to determine how to move forward with the lab – particularly, whether it should continue to operate under APD's oversight, and if not, which government entity should oversee it. The ask for more time isn't shocking: The Capital Area Private Defender Service hypothesized last fall that a review of cases involving individuals convicted by DNA evidence, and potential relitigation of those cases, could take five years. Arellano's memo provided a comprehensive update on the case review process, examination of lab practices, and the shared plan to move forward. The University of North Texas' Health Science Center has been conducting scientific case reviews to "assess the reliability" of the lab staff's DNA analysis; 42 reviews have been requested, with 36 completed. (It's unknown how many more will be necessary.) Additionally, the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice – contracted to complete the look forward – expects to have a final report completed by February.
The other agreement under the ILA concerns the county's partnership with CAPDS's Forensic Project, which is responsible for reviewing DNA cases processed by APD's lab and, if necessary, providing post-conviction litigation services to defendants. Currently, 565 Brady notice recipients have requested their case be reviewed. Of those, 561 case pre-screenings have been completed along with 292 materiality reviews; 160 cases have been closed. CAPDS is requesting a larger budget (from $647,212 to $873,400) for its Forensic Project next year, to add a post-conviction writ attorney for "active litigation."