In the case Coy vs. Texas, there was no physical evidence used to convict Coy; as far as I can tell, none was ever even gathered. Still, I want to take a moment to talk about the Houston Crime Lab.
Why? Because it’s another tiny window into the larger picture of how the Harris County Justice system worked under Chuck Rosenthal.
In late 2002, a local Houston television station began broadcasting a series on the Crime Lab’s accuracy. After it aired the Houston Police Department, which apparently had NO IDEA what kind if hijinks those wacky lab techs were getting up to, announced they were sending in some independent scientists to investigate. Because, you know, how were they supposed to know the lab was churning out results that were inaccurate? It’s not like a police department has its own detectives…or scientist-supervisors… or employs highly trained individuals whose (ostensible) work revolves around finding truth and investigating everything from murders to bounced checks, right?
Obviously, if your DNA department is producing tainted results, or employing incompetent scientists, or sending innocent citizens to prison for crimes they hadn’t committed, it’s a good thing to get someone unconnected to the department to investigate; but why in hell would you ignore a problem like that for so long that, once the independent experts have made their report, you have to shut the damn thing down?
The problems continue to this day; from the parole-board’s careless drug-testing, to the willful ignorance of the Breath Alcohol Testing vans and their malfunctioning equipment, the hard evidence used to support cases against people like you and me is continually called into question.
I’m not a scientist, I have no brilliant insights into the cause of the problems, or how they could be fixed; but as a citizen whose life one day may be affected by these same shoddy practices, I have to say that I don’t accept this as right, or allowable, or just ‘the cost of being protected.’
If they’re unwilling to correct their own mistakes until a TV station makes a public spectacle of it, why should I believe them when they tell me their social workers are knowledgeable, or their psychologists are experienced? Why should I have any more respect for the testimony of a police officer than the testimony of someone with a financial stake in the case?