Friday, April 5, 2013

Bulletin: Jonathan Salvador: Forensic Science Commission report filed earlier today leaves a key question unanswered: Has every conviction connected to his work been scientifically compromised? Texas Tribune.

STORY: "Forensic Science Commission reviews Department of Public Safety lab trouble," by reporter Maurice Chammah, published by the Texas Tribune on April 5, 2013.

GIST: "A report adopted today by the Texas Forensic Science Commission concludes that the potential reversal of thousands of drug convictions by the Court of Criminal Appeals was due to the incompetence of a Department of Public Safety crime lab employee. Members of the commission said it’s unclear whether every conviction connected to the employee’s work has been scientifically compromised. At a commission meeting on Friday, medical examiners and prosecutors discussed whether their findings regarding a DPS crime lab worker who replaced the results of one test with another mean that all of the drug samples that passed through his hands are now compromised. They also found that interviews with colleagues supported the conclusion that the employee "struggled with corrections and an overall understanding of the chemistry, especially in difficult cases."
The Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed more than 10 convictions due to the mistakes of the DPS Houston crime lab worker, Jonathan Salvador, who left the department last year. In the reversal of the conviction of Junius Sereal, from Galveston County, the judges wrote that all of the cases Salvador touched could be jeopardized. “While there is evidence remaining that is available to retest in this case, that evidence was in the custody of the lab technician in question,” according to the judicial opinion. “This Court believes his actions are not reliable therefore custody was compromised, resulting in a due process violation.” “This one analyst handled thousands of cases in the Houston area, and due to the breadth of the opinion, they may all be jeopardized,” the Texas District and County Attorneys Association wrote in a letter to its members."......... Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer with the Innocence Project of Texas, told the commission that the court is applying the same opinion to all of the cases involving Salvador simply as a practical matter. The Court of Criminal Appeals, he said, cannot possibly look at every single case connected to Salvador’s testing along with their normal work and so they are indicating that they will always rule in favor of the defendant in these cases. “I think it’s the numbers and judicial economy,” he said. Part of the problem, Blackburn added, is that Texas has no centralized public defender system, so each county handles the problematic convictions differently. “We have to go piecemeal,” he said, “but we’re doing the best with what we’ve got.”

The entire story can be found at:

Associated Press story: "The fact that this guy went on as long as he did without ever being figured out is appalling," said Jeff Blackburn, an attorney with the Innocence Project of Texas. "Once DPS figured it out, they did the right thing, but they should have gotten wise to him long before."

Houston Chronicle story: "This problem came up in the Houston police crime lab, where overworked forensic scientists frequently take shortcuts," said attorney Bob Wicoff, chief of appellate division of the Harris County Public Defender's Office. "And the result, frequently, is wrongful convictions." Other attorneys whose clients have been implicated by Salvador's findings said the DPS needs to do more, including independent audits and blind testing. "The dirty underbelly of this story is the peer review process," said Norm Silverman, an attorney who secured a dismissal for a client whose evidence was tested by Salvador. "When Salvador was running amok, as he was, the peer review process allowed it. They work together, they're friends. They don't want to get each other in trouble." He said defense lawyers are never told that results that don't "come out right" by a technician with a spotty history are being retested. "We're never told that things seized from our client are being tested by a chemist with a 50 percent error rate," Silverman said. "There needs to be a national standard for what goes on in a crime lab."


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