Criminal cases in Travis County to be reviewed

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas-- Criminal cases in Travis County may be soon be under review. According to the Department of Public Safety, the method used when testing DNA mixtures at the Texas DPS Crime Lab back from 1999 until August of 2015 was basically spitting out the wrong statistics. That means any case that used this testing in the last 16 years could be up for new testing and review.

Chris Perri has been a criminal defense attorney for more than 10 years. “I have never yet seen anything like this. I think it was kind of huge news when it came out, because in my mind, that's the hardest thing to combat as a criminal defense attorney is the scientific evidence,” Perri said.

He already has one case approved to be up for review, after the crime laboratory was found to be giving inaccurate probabilities. He said juries rely on scientific evidence. 

“When the scientists came on the stand, they're like 'oh, this has to be true.' So if the scientist says, if this defendant cannot be excluded from the DNA mixture we tested and there's a one in a million chance that somebody else at random could also match that, that's pretty powerful stuff. So if you later find out the scientific testing was wrong, I think it's very concerning because juries were hanging their hat on that.”

Meaning 16 years of criminal cases in Travis County that used this testing could be under review.

“I think this DNA revelation is really mind-blowing. I mean you're going to find hundreds, thousands around this country that are going to have to be retried or we are going to have to let people out if they were wrongly convicted.” Houston State Senator Rodney Ellis, who's also a chair for the Innocence Project, said, adding we have not been willing to invest enough money into the science of making sure that we get it right. “You want to make absolutely sure that if you're going to take someone’s liberty, it's the right person."

Perri thinks most of the cases that will be approved for review will be murder and sexual assault cases. But the DA's office has a lot of work ahead.

“What I do think needs to happen is a comprehensive review of all the cases by DA's office, by innocence projects to see which cases need to be looked at, need to have the DNA tested, and once they have the DNA retested, then the DA's office and hopefully defense attorneys can get together and say well would this have made a difference.”

The Travis County District Attorney's office said it is hiring more attorneys and paralegals to its "Conviction Integrity Unit." The unit will help review all the requests for DNA reviews based on the changes.