Dr. Chris Nulf worked for the Dallas County Crime lab for a little over a year. In that time, he says he saw inconsistent practices and poor evidence handling procedures. He sent anonymous complaints to the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission while he was employed there and continues to speak out today. But nothing has been done and the Dallas lab remains one that hasn’t come under review by the commission to date.
Texas lawmakers created the Texas Forensics Science Commission six years ago to hear complaints about bad science, bad policy, and other various problems within Texas crime labs. They were brought together to bring some integrity to the labs, ensuring proper justice was meted out.
The ASCLD/LAB is the accreditation agency that Dallas’ lab belongs to. Although they’ve asked administrators about the various complaints, officials from the Dallas County Crime Lab always had an explanation.
In one situation, Nulf alerted officials that the lab was using chemicals that expired more than 3 years prior. When confronted with this information, the lab told the ASCLD/LAB that because the chemicals were only a part of a greater solution being used in the lab, it didn’t matter when it expired. Basically, if the total solution passed quality control, it was fine. Or as DMagazine puts it, “it was using spoiled meat, but the chili still tasted fine.”
Another concern of Nulf’s was the use of a box fan in a room containing blood evidence. The potential for contamination by airborne particles is great. But officials told the ASCLD/LAB that the fan was always pointed away from any evidence and therefore was another non-issue.
Nulf eventually lost his job in May 2009 because he insisted on saying that he used an expired chemical when making notations in the lab logbook. He filed a wrongful termination suit but had to drop the suit because it was filed outside of 7 days following his termination, the deadline per county policy.
Evidence handling procedures must be adhered to strictly. But if procedures are unclear or if lab workers are told different procedures by different supervisors, running a lab that the people can depend on is nearly impossible. Problematic practices can result in the guilty walking free, whether it is on murder charges or sex offenses, and perhaps more troubling, the innocent being convicted.
When you are charged with a criminal offense, it’s the job of your defense lawyer to examine all of the evidence against you. From analyzing how it was collected to how it was handled, your lawyer helps to ensure you get the best results possible on your case.
From TV shows like CSI and Bones, we expect hyper-competent expert scientific crime analysis, but reality falls far short of this standard. These systemic flaws from a lazy, underfunded, and sometimes incompetent system stand in the way of criminal justice.