A fair justice system in the United States, and adequate criminal defense, demand that sufficient evidence exists in order to convict an individual of a crime. For example, if a prosecutor does not possess sufficient evidence to prove an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the individual should not be convicted of the crime. Now, we are seeing reports that the upcoming temporary closure of a Montgomery County crime lab could result in evidentiary issues for the state.
The Sam Houston State University Regional Crime Lab will soon lose its home because the landlord of the building found another tenant. The lab, which tests evidence for Montgomery County law enforcement, reports it has no place to go when it will be forced to move in September.
The loss of the crime lab means that Montgomery County will have to send its tests to the Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Crime lab located in Austin. According to one local Assistant District Attorney, the SHSU lab permitted for the return of toxicology and blood results in one to two weeks. With the rerouting to the Austin lab, which already serves many more agencies, it could take between six to eight weeks to obtain test results.
These delays could mean difficulties for criminal prosecutions in the area. Texas prosecutors are held to strict deadlines when it comes to both charging and convicting an individual. If the state is not ready for trial after a specified period of time ranging from five to 90 days depending on the severity of the charges, a suspect must be released due to the delay. The lack of proper evidence during these crucial windows could mean that an accused must be released from custody.
While there is no indication at this time that such delays will in fact cause releases, it is imperative to be aware of one's rights in such circumstances. A delayed charge or conviction does not mean that the state can simply hold an individual for an indefinite period of time. Laws based on fairness require that anyone held must be charged or permitted to stand trial within a reasonable time.
Sources: Conroe News, "Crime lab closure to create case delays," Nancy Flake, June 30, 2012
statutes.legis.state.tx.us, "CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE"