AUSTIN (KXAN) — The problems at the Austin Police Department DNA lab could eventually cost you, the taxpayer.
In an interview with KXAN Wednesday, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt outlined rough estimates revealing that retesting DNA samples could cost millions of dollars in the most drastic scenario. She says the costs could mean an increase in property taxes.
However, the exact outcome is still uncertain. Officials are trying to narrow down costs and the exact number of cases that need retesting.
“The city and the county will be working in partnership to hire up an expert to take a look at how deep the problems were in the DNA lab and then to identify all of the past cases that would have had a statistically significant affect on the case,” said Eckhardt.
In a letter obtained by KXAN earlier this month, Judge Eckhardt carefully explained to the legal community, including the incoming district attorney and sheriff, the “major downstream effect” caused by the problems uncovered at the Austin Police Department’s DNA lab. The widespread issues at the crime lab led to its closure in June.
A KXAN investigation unveiled thousands of cases called into question after the Austin lab and others across the state used flawed science calculating odds in DNA results. The Texas Forensic Science Commission said while most labs adjusted and updated their protocols to correct the problem, the Austin DNA lab had bigger problems. The issues included analysts using scientifically invalid methods and contamination worries.
The concern prompted the Travis County District Attorney’s office to begin the process of notifying defendants in approximately 3,600 cases that the DNA results that may have played a part in their prosecution could have possibly been overstated.
Judge Eckhardt told KXAN Wednesday that a preliminary and rough estimate for the cost of retesting DNA in a case is $5,000 per case. Meaning if all 3,600 cases needed retesting, the costs could rise to $18 million.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to find state and federal grants to assist us with this,” Eckhardt said. Still, the judge said an increase in property taxes could also be needed to help ensure cases receive the proper treatment.
Judge Eckhardt also says the county budgeted for $275,000 for national changes in statistical analysis based on a 2015 FBI announcement.
KXAN will continue to investigate the fallout of APD’s DNA lab.