Backlog of Rape Kit Testing in Austin and Elsewhere Impedes Justice

By Peek & Toland on June 23, 2016

In 2011, Texas became only the second state in the nation to pass legislation that required law enforcement agencies to count and test the backlog of untested rape kits in their storage facilities. Five years on, the backlog remains substantial creating concerns it could impede the administration of justice.

This month, the Washington Times reported on concerns raised by the backlog in DNA testing at labs across Texas.

While inroads have been made in the testing of rape kits, problems that the FBI identified last year in DNA testing have led to a re-evaluation of many cases.

Rape kit backlog is impeding justice

Crime labs across the country were told by the FBI that they are using outdated methods that were overstating the accuracy of DNA tests. For years, prosecutors have lauded DNA as an infallible test. However, labs were examining samples containing genetic material from a number of people and overstating the reliability of the tests, the Washington Times reported.

While prosecutors in Travis County are part of that massive national effort to re-evaluate cases, Austin Police Department’s crime lab, is still in the laborious process of testing new software and updating protocols. It will have to perform new calculations on about half of the 1,297 cases identified to date in Travis County, the Washington Times reported.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the expansion of testing for property crimes has served to fuel a backlog of 4,600 DNA cases, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The backlog has impacted the Harris County crime lab’s ability to promptly process evidence for sexual assaults and even homicides, the Chronicle reported.

The lab serves more than 60 law enforcement agencies. The county has a 60 day goal for the processing of sexual assault cases, but processing is taking as long as 172 days to complete, the report stated.

Clete Snell, a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, said the delays were undermining public confidence, postponing trials and meaning wrongly convicted defendants are languishing in jail longer as they wait for the results of the DNA tests that would clear them.

A report in the Amarillo Globe News in March said the city’s police department still has more than 800 untested rape kits that date back to the 1990s.  Police say complying with the 2011 law is draining resources.

As of early 2013, Texas had about 15,900 untested rape kits.

DNA evidence is crucial, particularly when gathering evidence for sexual offenses or family violence, where false allegations are frequently made.  The recent problems with DNA testing and the backlog in testing has undermined confidence in the criminal justice system in Texas and has surely condemned more innocent people to additional time behind bars.

If you have been charged with rape or another sexual offense or any violent offense, you could lose your good name and face a heavy custodial sentence. It’s imperative to hire a knowledgeable and experienced criminal attorney to defend you. Please contact our office at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Has the Largest Backlog of Immigration Cases

By Peek & Toland on May 19, 2016

If you are an immigrant or an asylum seeker who is awaiting a court hearing on naturalization, you will be well familiar with the long delays you face in the backlogged courts of Texas. We are well aware of the acute problems in the Austin area because Texas has the largest backlog in the country, according to a recent study.

In March, Human Rights First released its detailed analysis that shed light on the growing backlog. The report illustrated how the whole integrity of the immigration and asylum systems is being called into question by the delays. The report says Texas has a backlog of 89,000 cases. The number of cases pending in the Houston court alone, a city where Peek & Toland has an office, increased from 6,423 to 36,136 in the six years from 2010 to 2016, according to the report.

Texas faces a large immigration backlog

Texas has the largest immigration backlog

Over the last few years, a surge in new arrivals from Central America has fueled the backlog. The underfunded immigration system has failed to respond to the growing numbers.

Eleanor Acer, Senior Director of Refugee Protection with Human Rights First said the growing backlog has left those who are seeking legal protection in “legal limbo for years.”

We echo the concerns of Human Rights First and believe Congress needs to take action now to address the problem. Human Rights First is urging members to fund 75 additional teams of immigration judges to speed up the hearings.

The report from Human Rights First states there are a mere six immigration judges on the bench in Houston, a court that faces a doubling of its caseload by 2019 unless more judges and staff are added. Immigration and asylum seekers in Texas face a wait of a staggering five years for their cases to be heard. That’s well above the national average which is three years. In Houston and Dallas, wait times have grown by 30 percent since 2014.

It’s a long time for your life to be put on hold. The ongoing stress and uncertainty of an immigration case places many strains on families and means those seeking naturalization or asylum are unable to plan their futures with any degree of certainty.

The disproportionate funding that has gone into the immigration system has exacerbated the problem. Over almost 15 years, Congress has boosted immigration enforcement budgets but has completely failed to adequately fund the court systems that handle the resulting cases. At the same time, the prioritization of cases concerning children and families from Central America has pushed up the wait times for those families that have not been prioritized.

The immigration laws are complex and confusing, and the long waits for court hearings add to the daily stresses. We highlight the need for reform here on our website.

If you are waiting for a court hearing for naturalization, you are not alone. Our experienced immigration attorneys represent clients in Austin, Houston and other cities such as Georgetown and San Marcos. Contact the experienced Texas immigration attorneys at Peek & Toland so as we can explain your options and help you to secure legal status in the U.S. Do not hesitate to call us at (512) 474-4445.

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