Backlog at state crime lab creates opportunity for criminal defendants

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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - The state forensic lab in Austin is facing a major backlog. The wait time for blood and DNA tests is growing and leaving some courtrooms waiting.

For some defense attorneys, though, the wait is proving to be a good thing for their clients.

“I would say [the test] takes at least six months to sometimes as much as a year,” Bryan Defense Attorney Stephen Gustitis said, when asked how long the forensic lab tend to take complete a test.

Some local cases have been impacted by the delay. Terrance Johnson was accused of shooting and killing a man in 2014. He was originally scheduled to stand trial in January of this year, but that date was pushed back 8 months because of the backlog.

In the motion for continuance, court documents show that the prosecution asked the judge to push the trial back because the forensic lab cannot complete the its tests pertaining to the case. Johnson's attorney said he had no problem with delaying the trial.

According to Gustitis, the defense shouldn't have a problem with the extension.

“The delay period, sometimes I consider that an informal probation period," Gustitis said. He said the best attorneys can use the back log to their advantage. If a client is waiting on a blood test dealing with drugs, attorneys will have clients drug tested during the long delay.

“If a case is delayed a year, because of a forensic laboratory back up, that could be used very successfully," Gustitis explained. He said that a client can work to stay clean during the delay. Gustitis said that prosecutors will look on the clean drug tests favorably when they work on a resolution.

Some argue the delays created by the backlog can be an unfair advantage for the defense. Gustitis said defense attorneys shouldn’t be blamed for the long waits.

“We don’t cause this delay at the forensic laboratory but we definitely can use that delay to benefit our clients,' he said.