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TOPIC: County Judge's Memo on APD DNA Lab

County Judge's Memo on APD DNA Lab 2 years 2 months ago #218

Attached is a PDF of the memo that the County Judge sent to the Commissioners Court and CC'ed to the Austin City Council. Also attached are PDFs of the referenced attachments.

Text of the Memo:
November 15, 2016


As we discussed on Tuesday afternoon in Commissioners Court, the issues related to DNA testing at the APD Lab have a major downstream effect. The issues fall into 3 categories:
1. Capacity (dating back perhaps to the lab’s beginning)
2. Statistical credibility affecting approximately 1,400 cases (resulting from the 2015 FBI announcements)
3. Procedural credibility affecting approximately 3,600 cases (resulting from the 2016 Texas Forensic Science Commission Audit)

The downstream costs include:
· DNA testing since the APD lab closed (City, County and State)
· Re-testing of DNA evidence that has statistical and/or procedural credibility issues (County and State)
· Expert testimony to interpret the statistical and procedural results of DNA testing (County)
· Extended court involvement (Private, County and State)
o Prosecution time
o Defense time (privately funded if non-indigent, publicly funded if indigent)
o Judicial time
· Extended pre-trial jail time for those awaiting results of DNA testing (County and State)
· (Most troubling of all) potential injustice
o Failure to match current suspects with DNA from unresolved crimes
o Dismissal of cases for failure to provide speedy trail
o Unjustly long pre-trial detentions
o Wrongful convictions

As we discussed and instructed staff, the Court is exploring:
1. City of Austin and Travis County partnership on a contract with a Technical Expert, per the recommendations of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, to look back to understand the credibility issues with DNA evidence from the APD Crime Lab and design a mitigation strategy
2. City of Austin and Travis County partnership on a contract with a Consultant to look forward at options for providing the forensic resources appropriate to our community

With the blessing of the Commissioners Court, I have reached out to stakeholders in our community to advise on the above 2 actions. All of the following agencies were present at the briefing on Tuesday and I have assurances of their continued engagement:
· City of Austin Management
· Travis County Management
· Travis County District Attorney’s Office
· Capital Area Private Defenders Services (CapDS)
· Austin Police Department
· Scientific Community

In addition, I have spoken with Mayor Adler and District Attorney Elect Moore.

I have attached the following documents that were discussed in the briefing on Tuesday:
· The Texas Forensic Science Commission Audit
· The CapDS White Paper; and
· The District Attorney “Brady” letter already being sent to those convicted on APD DNA evidence that may have been compromised.

Travis County has a well-earned reputation for being a leader in Texas on issues of civil and criminal justice. Upholding that reputation demands swift and lasting correction of these breaches in credibility. Based on the information I have gathered so far I am convinced that re-establishing a DNA forensic testing mechanism under APD will not address the serious credibility issues either in the short or long term. I believe the City’s swift contracting with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office and Crime Investigation Lab for DNA testing is a big and integral step to our short term solution. Long term, I believe we must begin to migrate forensic resources over to an organization that is not under the management of law enforcement, prosecution or defense. How we get to that long term solution will require the input of local stakeholders as well as outside expertise. I pledge to gather and focus that input and deliver a solution as soon as possible in the interest of justice.


Sarah Eckhardt
Travis County Judge

File Attachment:

File Name: CountyJudgeMemotoCommissionersCourtonAPDDNALab.pdf
File Size: 90 KB

File Attachment:

File Name: APDAuditFinalreport071116.pdf
File Size: 17,537 KB

File Attachment:

File Name: DNAwhitepaperfinal1.pdf
File Size: 356 KB

File Attachment:

File Name: SampleBradynotice.pdf
File Size: 6,351 KB
Peter Einhorn
Chief of Staff
The Office of Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt
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