Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The end of the road?

Six years ago today The Defense Rests made its first appearance in the blawgosphere. Since that first humble post on the need for PR bonds in Harris County - sadly enough it's an issue that still hasn't been resolved - a total of 2,272 posts have appeared on these pages. I would like to think that most of them were worth reading (though I know of a few that probably weren't).

I would like to think that even if you disagreed with my views that my writing made you think. I never set out to try to change anyone's mind. I believe that most of us are pretty set in our ways of thinking after awhile and change is difficult.

I do believe that some of our views evolve over time. Our attitudes toward race have changed greatly over the past 50 years. I think our attitudes toward same-sex marriage have also changed with the times. I know that our views of the death penalty are evolving and I do hope that one day in the near future we see the end of capital punishment in this country.

My life has also evolved. Since the first post appeared on August 5, 2008, I have moved offices twice. My practice is steadily growing and eating up more and more of my available time. I have cut down on the number of posts I write a week as a result of the increased demands on my time. As the days have gotten longer, it's gotten harder to sit down and write at night. Whether it's writer's block or exhaustion doesn't really matter.

And then there's the chaos in my personal life. Dealing, or trying to deal, with the reality of a broken marriage takes priority over this vanity project. I'd like to think I might have some insight as to how to make a marriage work or what causes one to fail - but I don't. I can't even point to the moment things began to go downhill. I just know that once the avalanche began there was no stopping it. I don't know what the future will hold in this regard.

For those reasons I am taking an indefinite break from writing. I hope to be back here again one day, but I make no promises. If I do return to the blawgosphere it will probably be on a more sporadic basis. The grind of writing day after day will wear you out after a while.

I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by over the past six years. Whether you left a a favorable comment or told me what an idiot I was, at least you cared enough to put it in writing. Thanks also to everyone who clicked on one of the opinion buttons at the bottom of each post. Thank you to everyone who sent me story ideas over the years. Thanks also to my fellow blawgers who helped me along with advice or criticism. Very special thank you's go our to Mark Bennett, Scott Greenfield, Jeff Gamso, Scott Henson, Jamison Koehler and Murray Newman.

As I depart I am reminded of a line in an old Billy Joel song - "Life is full of hellos and goodbyes / I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again."

If not goodbye, at least farewell for now.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

Taking credit where credit wasn't due

Michael Phillips was arrested for the 1990 rape of a 16-year-old girl. Mr. Phillips, who maintained his innocence, entered into a plea agreement on the advice of his attorney after the white victim identified Mr. Phillips, a black man, in a photo line-up.

Mr. Phillips served 12 years in prison and then had to register as a sex offender after his release. As a result of not complying with the registration requirements he eventually went back to jail for another six months.

Earlier this year the DNA evidence in that rape case was tested - but not at Mr. Phillips' request. The kit was tested at the behest of the Dallas County DA's Office. The results of that test exonerated Mr. Phillips.

But why was the DA's Office testing a rape kit that had set on a shelf for more than two decades? Why were they testing a rape kit when the man convicted of the crime didn't request it?

Dallas County DA Craig Watkins would like you to believe that this was an incident in which his Conviction Integrity Unit was doing its job in making certain that no one was convicted of a crime they didn't commit. But that's not the reason the rape kit was tested.

You see Dallas County has a serious problem with its crime lab. Forensic work in Dallas County is performed by the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences. And SWIFS doesn't have a particularly good track record when it comes to DNA testing.

I have linked to a copy of an audit performed by the US Department of Justice in 2009 that paints a very disturbing picture of the crime lab.

Here is an excerpt from the report on the lab's compliance with CODIS protocols in the DNA section:
In our sample of 103 profiles, 2 profiles were inaccurate and 18 profiles were deleted from NDIS because they were unallowable, incomplete, or missing, and because of insufficient record retention, 15 of the Laboratory's files did not have sufficient evidence to determine if the profiles were obtained from a crime scene. The Laboratory deleted these 35 profiles from NDIS. The remaining 68 profiles we reviewed were complete, accurate, and allowable for inclusion in NDIS. However, 58 of the 103 profiles in our sample are not searchable at NDIS because they contain 9 or less core loci rather than the minimum of 10 loci required to be searchable at NDIS.4 Prior to January 2009, the Laboratory only attempted the analysis of 13 loci on forensic samples that did not have a standard for comparison, but in January 2009, the Laboratory began attempting the analysis of 13 core loci. However, 11 (30 percent) of the 37 samples analyzed between January 1, 2009, and May 13, 2009, contained less than 13 loci. The CODlS Administrator explained that it could be a matter of timing if the profile was run prior to January 1, 2009, or 13 loci were not run either because a suspect profile had already been developed for comparison or some of the sample was preserved for later use.
If this is the best that SWIFS can do, then Dallas County is in serious trouble. This, unfortunately, seems to be par for the course for crime labs run by and for law enforcement. These labs aren't meant to be independent. They are meant to generate evidence that the state can use against those accused of criminal acts. This mission encourages sloppiness and it encourages analysts to err on the side of law enforcement when making close calls.

The system is broken and it can't be fixed.