Texas Forensic Science Commission

Justice Through Science

Frequently Asked Questions

  • The FBI is engaged in a review of microscopic hair analysis cases performed by its laboratory before 2000.  The agency believes some of its examiners overstated the extent to which the science underlying hair microscopy allowed for a positive association between a known hair sample and crime scene evidence.  

    On April 11, 2013, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB) released a memorandum describing the FBI review and encouraging (but not requiring) laboratories to review their hair microscopy case files.  ASCLD-LAB noted the forensic science community’s ethical obligation to “take appropriate action if there is potential for, or there has been, a miscarriage of justice due to circumstances that have come to light, incompetent practice or malpractice.”    

    The FBI has also indicated that it trained many microscopic hair analysts in state and local crime laboratories, including some laboratories in Texas.  Of course, this does not necessarily mean that state and local analysts in Texas made similar overstatements.  It is also unclear whether the FBI actually trained analysts using principles that could overstate a positive association, or whether the analysts who received FBI training followed the FBI’s lead in their own testimony. 

    At its public meeting on November 1, 2013, the Commission elected to conduct a statewide review of hair microscopy cases.  The review is being guided by an investigative panel.  For a list of panel meetings, click here.  For additional questions regarding the review, please contact the Commission office at (512) 936-0770 or (888) 296-4232

     

  • The Commission investigates complaints alleging professional negligence or misconduct that would substantially affect the integrity of the results of a forensic analysis conducted by an accredited crime laboratory. The Commission also has jurisdiction to investigate non-accredited forensic disciplines and non-accredited entities under more limited circumstances, such as to make observations regarding best practices or for educational purposes. 

     Please be aware that the Commission investigates allegations involving “forensic analysis” in Texas only.  The term “forensic analysis” includes any medical, chemical, toxicological, ballistic, or other expert examination or test performed on physical evidence, including DNA evidence, for the purpose of determining the connection of the evidence to a criminal action.  However, the term “forensic analysis” does not include the portion of an autopsy conducted by a medical examiner or other forensic pathologist who is a licensed physician.  If you submit a complaint regarding the results of an autopsy, it is highly likely your complaint will be dismissed. 

     Important Note: the forensic analysis often performed in connection with an autopsy, such as toxicology, is included within the Commission’s jurisdiction even though the autopsy itself is not.

     The Commission’s enabling statute describes the types of cases the Commission may investigate in detail.  It may be found at Article 38.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  Click http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us to link to Texas Statutes online.

     If you have any questions regarding the types of cases reviewed by the Commission, please contact our office at (888) 296-4232 or (512) 936-0770.

  • In April 2011, the Commission made a series of recommendations designed to improve the quality of fire investigations in Texas in response to a complaint regarding the science used in the criminal cases of Ernest Ray Willis and Cameron Todd Willingham.  [Link to Final Reports Tab]

    One of the Commission’s suggestions was that the Texas State Fire Marshal (SFMO) consider conducting an internal review of arson cases for which its staff provided testimony to ensure that outdated and/or invalid fire science principles were not used in the forensic reports or testimony issued by the SFMO.  

    The State Fire Marshal is in the process of implementing the Commission’s recommendations, including a review of arson cases through the Science Advisory Workgroup.  For questions regarding the review, please contact the SFMO directly at: http://www.tdi.texas.gov/fire/Index.html

     

  • Please visit our complaints page for copies of our complaint forms. 
    The Commission accepts complaints via e-mail, mail, and facsimile.  

    Email the complaint form to info@fsc.texas.gov.

    Mail the form to:  

    Texas Forensic Science Commission
    1700 North Congress Ave. Suite 445
    Austin, Texas 78701

    Phone:(888) 296-4232 or (512) 936-0770
    Fax:(888) 305-2432 or (512) 936-7986

     

  • You may submit a complaint without disclosing your identity. However, the Commission cannot guarantee your anonymity. Also, please note that filing a complaint without disclosing your identity may impede the investigation process, especially if our ability to contact you is limited.

     The Commission’s statute allows it to withhold information submitted regarding a complaint from public disclosure until the final investigative report is issued.  However, after a report is issued, all information and complaints are subject to public disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA).  For more information on Texas open government laws including the PIA, click [https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/open/index.shtml] 

     Follow this link to submit a complaint.

     

  • In May 2005, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Forensic Science Commission.  The Commission is required to investigate allegations of professional negligence or professional misconduct that would substantially affect the integrity of the results of a forensic analysis conducted by an accredited laboratory, facility or entity.  The Commission also maintains a reporting system through which accredited laboratories, facilities, or entities may report professional negligence or misconduct.  
     
    In May 2013, the Texas Legislature clarified the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction by passing SB-1238 authored by Senator Juan C. Hinojosa  and Senator Joan Huffman.  The Commission may now investigate complaints involving forensic disciplines that are not subject to accreditation under Texas law, with the exception of autopsies.  The Commission may also initiate an investigation of a forensic analysis for educational purposes without receiving a complaint if the Commission determines by majority vote that the investigation would advance the integrity and reliability of forensic science in Texas.
     
    The Commission’s enabling statute is set forth in Article 38.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  Click http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us to link to Texas Statutes online.
  • The Commission has two full-time staff members, and you are welcome to contact them with questions.

    Lynn Robitaille Garcia
    Commission General Counsel
    lynn.garcia@fsc.texas.gov

    Leigh Tomlin
    Commission Coordinator
    leigh@fsc.texas.gov

    By phone at: (888) 296-4232 or (512) 936-0770
    By fax at: (888) 305-2432 or (512) 936-7986

     

  • Please refer to page 6 of the Lab Self-Disclosure form [LINK TO FORM] for guidance on what types of issues need to be disclosed to the Commission.  If you have any questions, please contact the Commission’s general counsel, Lynn Garcia, at (888) 296-4232 or (512) 936-0770.  

  • Follow this link for a list of DPS-accredited fields of forensic science and a list of those fields to which DPS-accreditation does not apply:  http://info.sos.state.tx.us/pls/pub/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=5&ti=37&pt=1&ch=28&sch=I&rl=Y

     

  • The Commission will examine the details of your complaint to determine what level of investigation to perform, if any.  All complaints are taken seriously.  Because of the complex nature and number of complaints received by the Commission, we cannot give you any specific date by which the review may be completed.  

    If the criteria for an investigation are met, the Commission will send a letter to the laboratory/facility and/or individual(s) named in the complaint indicating that the Commission has received the complaint.  The Commission will then request a response from the entity and/or individual who is the subject of the complaint.  We may also need to obtain additional information from you.  If the criteria for an investigation are not met or the Commission declines to investigate further, you will receive a letter from the Commission.

    A complaint must be received within 10 business days of any quarterly meeting date for review at that meeting. Otherwise, the complaint will be reviewed at the following quarterly meeting date.

     

  • Texas law does not currently require forensic examiners to be certified in order for their testimony or results to be admitted as evidence in a criminal case.   The Commission is working closely with the Texas Association of Crime Laboratory Directors and other entities to implement a statewide certification program for forensic examiners in Texas.  A white paper on certification of forensic examiners in Texas can be found here: [Link to Certification White Paper under Resources/Documents tab]   

  • The Commission meets quarterly to deliberate on any complaint received since its last quarterly meeting.  All quarterly meetings and Complaint Screening Committee meetings are open to the public.  The Commission typically meets in January, April, July and October of each year.  For a list of meetings, click here  

    A complaint must be received within 10 business days of any quarterly meeting date for review at that meeting. Otherwise, the complaint will be reviewed at the next quarterly meeting. 

    To check the status of your complaint, please check here [LINK to complaint page].  You can also e-mail our Commission Coordinator, Leigh Heidenreich at leigh@fsc.texas.gov or call (512) 936-0661.

  • In September 2003, the Texas Legislature created the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Lab Accreditation Program, located in Section 411.0205 of the Government Code §411.0205. The law requires a laboratory or other entity, public or private, conducting forensic analysis of physical evidence must be accredited by DPS in order for that laboratory's evidence or testimony to be admissible in a criminal proceeding.  A laboratory may apply to the Director for statutory DPS accreditation if accreditation is required for evidence admissibility under Code of Criminal Procedure Article 38.35.  Accreditation is part of a laboratory's quality assurance program, which includes proficiency testing, continuing education, customer liaison, and other programs to help the laboratory provide more effective overall service. 

    In order for a laboratory or other entity to receive full DPS accreditation, the laboratory must first be accredited by a recognized accrediting body.  Please follow this link to the DPS website for a current list of recognized accrediting bodies: https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/CrimeLaboratory/LabAccreditation.htm

     

  • [Link to searchable “Reports” web page]

  • The Commission has nine members, all appointed by the Governor of Texas.  Seven of the members are scientists and two are attorneys.  The attorneys are nominated by the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association.   

    Please follow this link to access the biographies of members.

    A detailed description of each appointment is set forth in the Commission’s enabling legislation at Article 38.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  For a link to Texas Statutes online, click http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us

     

  • For a list of accredited crime labs in Texas, follow this link: https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/CrimeLaboratory/LabAccreditation.htm.

    For a list of accredited crime labs outside Texas, follow this link: https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/CrimeLaboratory/documents/List_NonTexas_La....

     

  • The Commission offers a variety of training and education programs for forensic examiners, lawyers, judges and other members of the criminal justice system in Texas.  The Commission works collaboratively with other organizations such as the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, to offer high quality training programs for forensic stakeholders.  For a list of current and past educational and training intiatives, click here: [LINK to conferences tab]

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