This week was National Forensic Sciences Week! Yipee Hooray?! Do you want to know why I was so excited? No, its not because I am a fan of CSI. It’s because Forensic Sciences play a HUGE rule in the criminal justice system. So this week, all across the county, super high tech science labs that determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of people, did their best to mop the floors, wipe the countertops, and windex the windows to prepare for groups of citizens to come to the lab for a tour.
I found out about the open house at the Texas Department of Public Safety Region II Houston Crime lab through my criminal defense bar, the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association. We are the largest local criminal defense bar in the country, so you would expect to see loads of lawyers taking tours of the enemy’s layer. Nope. I was the only one on my tour, and I know of 5-6 other lawyers who went on a tour, but the other 655 sure missed out. When you consult with a lawyer for your pending criminal case, ask him or her if she took the tour, like Attorney Cory Roth did.
Seriously, I was inside the enemy’s domain. There was something eerie about just how clean the the Blood Testing and Alcohol Testing labs were that are used test whether someone was driving while intoxicated. You know what else was weird? How they had all the pretty girls leading the tours. Although, I will say that I thought it was super cool that so many young women are in the science field. Very cool.
Here are a few snippets of what I learned.
- The Intoxilyzer 9000 is the new machine that Texas will be using to administer breath tests to people suspected of DWI who submit to a breath test. The Intoxilyzer 9000 uses much of the same technology of the Intoxilyzer 5000…which came out in the ’80s. Also of note, there is not specific time frame in which the machine needs to be calibrated, just when the operator ‘fee’s like something needs calibrated” other than before putting it into circulation. The Intoxilyzer 9000s will be put into use across Texas by the end of January 2016.
- Trace evidence scientist are the ‘dumpster divers’ of forensic scientists. The scientists was way too enthusiastic, which was scary. She clearly thinks it is her job to find the bad guy, when really, her job is to rule everyone else out. For examples, she said that hair is not unique, carpet fibers, cotton fibers, paint fibers, duct tape, shoes, shirts and so on are not unique. All she can do as a scientist is determine which brand, make, model, a particular fiber comes from. She can’t tell for certain whether a particular car was involved in a hit and run, but she just LOVES TO MAKE SURE that she testifies that she can reach a conclusion by saying, “But really, how many red Ford’s where in the area at that time.” OBJECTION MA’AM, invading the province of the jury.
- And finally, in the drug lab I looked through a microscope at some marijuana. I asked the lab technician how she determines whether a plant is marijuana. First, she said, they drop a piece into a liquid and if it turns purple, it is weed. Second, they look at the weed under a microscope to see if it has three types a “bear claw” hairs. I then asked how they weigh the marijuana. She told me they just weigh the marijuana all at once and don’t take out the stalks and stems. She even said that the law allows them to weigh the stems, but I think not.
These were just a few of the things I learned during my tour of the crime lab. I went on the tour to be a better lawyer for you. I left the tour being a better lawyer for you.
One last thing: The Harris County prosecutors love to tell the jury during voir dire in EVERY CASE that, “Real life is not like CSI. The lab can’t track DNA on a bird feather.” The overly-excited trace lab tech, she voluntarily told us she can!