Houston Drug Defense Attorney James Sullivan defends people accused of violating their misdemeanor or felony probation in Harris and surrounding counties. Since 1994, James Sullivan has kept hundreds of people on regular and deferred adjudication probation.
[The attorney] is putting the county’s probation department on trial in an unconventional hearing that was supposed to be a routine probation revocation for one of her clients. The evidence that Youst’s test was false was uncontested Friday. [The] broader point is that clerical errors, faulty record keeping and other problems may mean no urine tests done by the probation department can be trusted. The division tests more than 25,000 urine samples a month for suspects out on bail and others who are on probation.
Some of the problems include mislabeling samples, data entry problems and a lack of audits or oversights to catch mistakes. A supervisor who testified Friday said finding 3-month-old urine samples in the back of the division’s unlocked refrigerators was not uncommon. The old samples would simply be sent out as though they had been collected that day, said Donald Martin, a supervisor at the department. As part of the court-mandated “chain of custody” that ensures the integrity of evidence, law enforcement has to show that an appropriate custodian has kept evidence from being tampered with before it can be admitted in court. “When it comes to chain of custody,” Martin testified, “there are more holes than Swiss cheese.”
False positives found
Deputy Director of Operations Kim Ballentine declined to answer questions about the allegations because of the ongoing hearing and the pending underlying criminal case… The agency also released a statement saying there would be no comment Friday on the situation. [The attorney] said she believes an untold number of probationers and people who are awaiting trial may have been jailed or sanctioned for false positives. “One source testified that there are at least 32 cases that they recently discovered,” she said. “And that’s just scratching the surface.” Besides keeping her client out of jail, [the attorney] wants supervisors at the probation department fired and the agency revamped. She also questioned how prosecutors can now legally revoke probationers for positive tests. “You want to know that there is integrity in the evidence… I don’t know how the district attorney’s office can rely on any urinalysis from this probation department.” The Harris County District Attorney’s Office released a statement that it plans to review all of the allegations after the hearing ends…