Working to move beyond troubled past at Houston's crime lab

Report raises concerns in some legal circles about quality of lab's work

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HOUSTON – The Houston Forensic Science Center processes between 24,000 and 25,000 requests a year. The requests entail analyzing and testing everything from blood to drugs to guns -- evidence that is key in criminal cases.

However, a year-old report issued by the Texas Forensic Science Commission continues to raise concerns in some legal circles about the quality of the lab's work.

The commission's report involved the 2013 mishandling of a blood a sample in a drunken driving case and the subsequent response by managers at the lab well into 2014.

The commission reported incomplete paperwork from a Houston police officer led to the sample being mislabeled and then misplaced. The report noted the District Attorney's Office eventually had to dismiss the case because the blood sample could not be found.

The commission took to task the lab's then interim-manager for trying to handle the error in a less than formal fashion after the missing sample was eventually found in a lab cooler. The analyst involved in handling the sample self-disclosed the error to the commission. In January 2015, the commission issued a finding of professional negligence.

While the report is now a year old, it is still having some impact in the criminal justice system.

"To me this was another embarrassment from a crime lab with a very checkered past," said Tyler Flood, an attorney who is president-elect of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. "Informal means undocumented so nobody can find out about it."

Flood recently wrote a blog article on the association's website about the commission's findings. Flood said the reason for writing the article was because the commission's report became a point of contention during DWI trial that ended in December with a not guilty verdict and he wanted to make sure colleagues handling these type of cases where aware of its existence.