The shuttering of the Austin Police Department’s forensics lab after an audit found unscientific protocols and contamination of evidence has delayed pending cases and led to a debate about how the lab should be operated.
Now, the Travis County district attorney’s office is faced with another chunk of the problem: Figuring out how many cases were resolved using possibly bad DNA evidence.
Thousands of people — defense attorneys estimate 4,000 to 5,000, while prosecutors say fewer than 3,600 — were convicted using evidence processed by the Police Department’s forensics lab between 2004 and 2016, when lab procedures might have been compromised. The Capital Area Private Defender Service, which represents area defense attorneys, said in a report this month that anywhere from 1 percent to 40 percent could see their convictions overturned.
That wide range makes it clear how little anyone knows about the actual scope of the forensics flaws. It spells a daunting task for local officials as they come up with a plan to fund a review of those cases and potential retesting of evidence.