UPDATE – July 28, 2017. On behalf of Texas DPS, Deputy Director of Homeland Security & Services, Mr. Robert J. Bodisch notified statewide law enforcement and prosecutors that at the request of Governor Abbott and agreement of legislative leaders that DPS reverse the decision to charge fees for forensic analysis of physical evidence. Now, DPS will continue providing forensic crime lab services at no cost to law enforcement agencies.
Original article dated July 27, 2017:
Insisting the change in the state budget, Texas lawmakers shifted the cost of state crime lab analysis to local law enforcement to help lower property taxes. Prior to the new fees going into effect this fall, state crime lab services had been available to city and county law enforcement free of charge. The new fees are projected to make up more than 15 percent of the state crime lab budget. A voucher system, still being negotiated, should benefit police and sheriff departments as they adjust their local budgets to accommodate the new fees for lab work to investigate DNA, toxicology and evidence of alcohol and controlled substances. Some say law enforcement may need to use greater discretion in cases where ordering forensic analysis will come with a price tag.
DPS fees for crime lab forensic analysis:
- “DNA testing will cost cities and counties $550 per test;
- Toxicology tests, such as for DWI enforcement and homicide cases, will cost $150;
- Alcohol and controlled substance analysis will cost $75 per test.[i]”
The new fees, included in the Texas crime lab budget for the coming year are expected to be $11.5 million, just more than 15 percent of the projected $74.5 million budget. The current budget is $74.6.[ii]
How will local police and sheriff departments respond to the new crime lab fees?
Individual departments will need to determine how the new DPS fees for forensic analysis affects their budgets. According to the WFAA article on point, “Police departments in North Texas, which use the state crime labs, said they have not yet heard of the new costs and are unsure if there will be an amount easily absorbed or whether they will have to ask taxpayers for more money.[iii]”
A thought crossing the mind of many criminal defense attorneys is whether some law enforcement may become selective in which cases they subjectively determine it is worth the money to order blood, toxicology and DNA testing. Smaller police departments with smaller budgets are likely to feel the greatest impact of the new budget holding them accountable for the cost of lab work.
Will a state voucher program alleviate burdens on law enforcement budgets?
Still being finalized, the state is implementing a voucher system that each department can apply to some of the crime lab services. If for example, as a matter of policy, DWI arrests and charges are a high priority in law enforcement, there may be more access to voucher funds from state revenues.
Vouchers, while helpful financial aid, may be limited. There will likely be police and sheriff departments forced to make budget cuts that could affect the delivery of law enforcement services. Fewer officers could be patrolling small towns and rural counties if other funds are not budgeted to cover the new forensic lab fees that will be charged by DPS as of September 1, 2017.
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[i] WFAA 8 ABC, Police, sheriffs must soon pay to use state crime labs, by Jason Whitely, July 20, 2017.
[ii] See HNi above
[iii] See HNii above.