January 11, 2017
The Houston Forensic Science Center has disclosed to the state’s forensic oversight
commission three incidents in which analysts made errors when reporting results from
preliminary analysis conducted on evidence.
These disclosures are in accordance with procedures recommended by the Texas
Forensic Science Commission (TFSC).
HFSC believes the incidents do not involve negligence or professional misconduct on
the part of the analysts. HFSC’s disclosures are meant to proactively address draft
language issued by TFSC that requires crime laboratories to disclose instances in which
a case report has been amended due to an error in the analysis and reporting process.
“HFSC has conducted a root-cause analysis into the three incidents and believes that
any issues that may have existed have been corrected and action has been taken to
avoid similar errors in the future,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s interim CEO and
Each incident occurred in a different forensic discipline. The first occurred when a
latent print examiner confused two piles of folders and incorrectly reported two cases
as having no preliminary association recorded in the Automated Fingerprint
Identification System (AFIS) when the report should have stated preliminary
associations had been made. The analyst immediately caught the error, verified the
initial finding and issued corrected reports. To prevent similar incidents going forward,
all latent print examiners will reread HFSC’s written protocols. Additionally, a latent
print supervisor reviewed all cases completed by the examiner over a five-month
period to ensure no similar mistakes had been made. The supervisor did not find any
In the Toxicology Section, an analyst reported that a screening chemistry indicated the
presence of one or more drugs in blood evidence when in fact the result was negative.
HFSC’s Quality Division reviewed more than 480 reports issued by the analyst and
about 270 cases approved by the technical reviewer to ensure no similar mistakes had
occurred. No additional errors were found, but written instructions have been amended
to require the administrative reviewer to document that screening data is consistent
with results reported in the final laboratory report.
In the final incident, in a presumptive serology test done in the Forensic Biology Section
an analyst reported positive semen results. However, when confirmatory testing was
done, no DNA could be obtained from the evidence. When the analyst redid the initial
screening test, the positive result could not be replicated. As a result, the final report
stated the presumptive identification of semen was inconclusive. To avoid similar
problems going forward, the analyst has been temporarily removed from casework and
is being retrained while the HFSC investigates the incident.
“Although we believe these errors were not the result of any misconduct on the part of
our staff, HFSC is committed to fully investigating any incidents that could impact the
quality and credibility of our science,” Dr. Stout said. ”We will continue to take similar
steps going forward when questions arise and look forward to working with TFSC to
further explore any issues.”
HFSC is a local government corporation that provides forensic services to the City of
Houston and other local agencies. HFSC is overseen by a Board of Directors appointed
by the Mayor of Houston and confirmed by the Houston City Council. Its management
structure is designed to be responsive to a 2009 recommendation by the National
Academy of Sciences that called for crime laboratories to be independent of law
enforcement and prosecutorial branches of government.
HFSC operates in eight forensic disciplines.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Director of Communications/PIO
713-929-6768 (office)
713-703-4898 (cell)
Follow us on Facebook http://on.fb.me/1x1zap2
Follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/HoustonForensic