Testing the Drug Testers

A Houston criminal defense attorney should be commended for her work in a routine probation hearing that ended with doubts about the veracity of thousands of drug tests administered by the Harris County probation department and calls from the judge for the county’s probation director to resign.

In her defense of a client who was facing a probation revocation hearing, Lisa Andrews recently blew the lid off the Houston criminal courthouse with a mountain of evidence illustrating how the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department has bungled an unknown number of drug tests. The county agency is responsible for testing more than 25,000 urine samples every month for probationers and defendants who are awaiting trial. During the hearing, one witness testified that he lost his job and had to move in with his mother last year after a clerical error caused his probation to be revoked. Andrews also highlighted an instance where test results for 32 probationers were altered when a data entry technician entered a wrong number into a database.

Since the hearing, the director of the county’s probation department has resigned and the Harris County District Attorney has pledged to not rely on the department’s test results. Now, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has sent a team of experts to Houston to try to help clean up the mess. Despite the headaches that will come with fixing the problem, including overturning convictions and defending the inevitable lawsuits, the people of Harris County owe a debt of gratitude to Andrews for taking the time to accumulate this evidence and present it to a judge.

Although the public is often unaware of it, sometimes the only thing standing between justice and injustice for a huge swath of people is a single, dedicated attorney who is just doing her job.

Posted: 10/3/2012 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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