In 2004, the Austin Police Department (APD) opened a forensic facility. The following year, APD received accreditation in multiple areas, including biology. In 2015, an internal evaluation of the APD DNA Laboratory identified several areas that needed improvement. In 2016, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) conducted an audit of the laboratory. Less than two months later, the TFSC published the results of that audit, revealing numerous problems. The audit report can be found here: 2016 Final Audit Report for APD Forensic Science Division DNA Section. In 2016, APD closed the DNA lab.
In the months that followed, criminal justice and government stakeholders from Travis County and the City of Austin worked to determine the next steps. The APD DNA Review Project was established. The APD DNA Review Project is viewed as a collaborative effort between the Travis County District Attorney’s Office (TCDAO) and the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS). The project facilitates cases review identifies cases that would benefit from reanalysis/retesting, facilitates reanalysis/retesting, and undertakes post-conviction litigation for persons who were affected by the problems identified in the former APD DNA lab.
DPS DNA Review Project
In 2015, the FBI provided crime laboratories across the country with notice that the population database it used for 15 years to calculate DNA statistics in criminal cases contained discrepancies. The FBI provided updated data and many Texas laboratories offered recalculation for any criminal case. The population database adjustment did not yield significantly different results in any reported case, but as the new calculations were performed, an unrelated issue concerning DNA mixtures arose.
When the 2015 notice was issued, many labs had changed the method used for calculating DNA mixture interpretations, prompted in part by new mixture interpretation guidance issued by the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) in 2010. The most commonly used method up to that point was Combined Probability of Inclusion (CPI). When original CPI calculations were reanalyzed according to the revised protocol suggested by SWGDAM, the results changed in some cases. New calculations had the potential to exclude a suspect as a possible contributor to a DNA mixture in cases where the subject was previously included. For example, in a murder case in Galveston, the original DNA analysis indicated that a defendant could not be excluded as a possible contributor, and that the probability of such a profile appearing randomly was 1 in 290,000,000. After reanalysis consistent with the revised protocol, the probability changed to 1 in 38.
When the problem with CPI was identified, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Lab estimated that CPI was used in approximately 25,000 cases. In response, Travis County opted to ask CAPDS to review potentially affected cases. The DPS DNA Mixture Review Project reviews cases to determine whether DNA was material, facilitates reinterpretation of DNA mixtures, and undertakes post-conviction litigation for persons who were affected.