wouldn't pick up on that and take advantage of the insight to do their own work."

The defense attorneys can't be absolved of blame in the problems with some of the cases, but even Munier admitted the defense is playing with a different deck of cards because it doesn't have equal access to the lab tests.

"Our procedures in Texas are more streamlined and the discovery process is more restrictive, so defense attorneys didn't get to see all the stuff from the laboratory until trial sometimes," Munier said. "Were there times when the defense attorney should have looked closely at [the evidence] and said, 'I want this tested' but didn't have it tested? Probably. Were there times when the judge said, 'Sorry, we're going to go to trial anyway'? Probably.

"It's not good. In hindsight, you could say, 'No, they should see the stuff so they can have an expert look at it and say you've got some problems,'" Munier continued. "All these things played a part in the train wreck, and then you have the police department, where the crime lab is seen as the stepchild: They don't fund it, they don't have enough staff.... It's like the perfect storm."

The HPD did not respond to a request for an interview.

A Cry for Independence

One solution for crime labs is to operate more independently of the police department and the DA's office. Crime analysts are given evidence from a crime and usually told to look for something in particular.

When the evidence or lab test results are unclear, the analysts might have incentive to find results favoring the police's case. "I think forensic labs get a little bit caught up in the heat of the battle from our adversarial process," Thompson said. "It's like team spirit. They see the defense counsel as their enemy and tend to be kind of secretive and not want to disclose things outside of the family."

Another problem for crime labs, Munier said, is they don't have the resources or time to test every bit of evidence. "When you have 50 pieces of evidence, what do you test and what do you look for if you're not told?" She suggested giving the state some items to test and saving some for the defense. "Where you say, 'We're going to test a few items for [the state] and provide items for the defense.' It's an enormous problem and it's everywhere."

There is plenty of shared blame, but part of it stems from a misunderstanding of DNA evidence. "No lab is perfect, and part of the problem with DNA labs is there's such propaganda surrounding DNA testing," Thompson said. "People are routinely claiming that it's infallible."

He said anytime new scientific evidence is admitted into the legal system it undergoes a screening for admissibility. Proponents of the new science go overboard in advocating for it to the point that they claim it's error-free. "In fact, that was never true," Thompson said. "Like anything else, you can mislabel the samples or misinterpret the result."

"There are many different interpretations of what the CSI effect is, but if anything, it's given credit to the whole field of forensic science and supported the image of forensic scientists as conveyers of truth," Thompson said, referring to the phenomenon of jurors asking for more forensic evidence in real-life trials because of what they see on TV crime dramas. "It's probably made it harder to challenge cases in forensic science where it doesn't live up to the ideal."

Munier said there has been a large learning curve associated with the use of DNA in Houston and everywhere else. "Most of the training we got was internal, and nobody around here knew much

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor