Harris County Is Drowning in Drunk People's Blood. Dallas, Thankfully, Is Not

Last week, Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for some advice. County law enforcement has dutifully taken blood samples from suspects in certain intoxication-related offenses (driving drunk with a child in the car, for one) as required by state law.

Now, the county's running out of storage space. There are some 13,000 vials of blood and counting piling up in Harris County's refrigerators, and storage space is running out. If the supply continues to grow, Lykos writes in a letter to Abbott, there will be no room to store blood evidence in open criminal cases, which will be left unrefrigerated or kept in a location where the chain of custody isn't secure.

Simply tossing the old blood out seems like the obvious solution, but how? Lykos notes in her letter that "given the exculpatory (and inculpatory) value of the blood, the privacy concerns associated with the blood, and the high costs of storage and maintenance of biological materials," disposing of the blood is a delicate procedure that isn't really addressed in state law.

Since law enforcement officers here presumably collect roughly the same amount of blood as those in Harris County, one wonders how many gallons of alcohol-infused blood are in Dallas County's refrigerators.

The answer is, not many. After calling the DAs office, the DPD, and the Sheriff's Office, I finally found my way to the county's Institute of Forensic Sciences.

"What happens in practice is, for most of the police agencies we serve, we hold the specimens for a year after we test," said forensic operations administrator Cathy Self. "Most of them -- not all, but most of them -- don't want them back."

She wasn't sure how many vials of blood are currently in storage, but it isn't many. The institute apparently had no qualms about destroying the blood in the way it handles all the biological waste that passes through.

The Texas Tribune wrote about Lykos' request this morning in the broader context of the importance of biological evidence in the 52 and counting DNA exonerations in the state.

Patrick McCann, a Houston defense attorney voiced objection to any plan to get rid of old blood.

"No biological evidence should ever be destroyed. Period," McCann told the Tribune. "I think it sets a bad precedent, particularly in this day of consistently and horrifically wrong lab results."

But, to the layperson at least, indefinitely storing the blood of a guy who was pulled over for his fifth DWI seems an unnecessary waste of space and resources. Whether that has to happen will be up to Abbott and ultimately, if they decide to clarify the law, legislators.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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