On most misdemeanor cases, if a person successfully completes their deferred adjudication probation, then they can seek to get their criminal record sealed (non-disclosed) to the public. For felony cases that qualify, the person can do this 5 years after successfully completing their deferred probation.
According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, The Harris County Probation Department has recently come under fire for serious problems in the handling of drug testing for people on probation or on bond. According to evidence uncovered and brought to light in a recent hearing, the integrity of drug testing in the department may not be trusted due to clerical errors, faulty record keeping, mislabeling of samples and a sloppy chain of custody. Because of these serious problems, many people may have been arrested or had their probation revoked based on false positives. A local defense attorney alleges a systemic problem and calls for sweeping overhauls.
If the State has filed a Motion to Revoke your Probation or to Adjudicate your Guilt, you can call defense Attorney Jim Sullivan at 281.546.6428 to discuss your case.
By Brian Rogers
A man who spent 10 days in jail last year because of a clerical error in Harris County’s probation department testified Friday that the mistake cost him his driver’s license, his job and his home. “I’m devastated,” Richard Youst said on the witness stand. “It devastated my life.” The 28-year-old said his life fell apart after a false positive on a drug test in April 2011. He had been on probation for driving while intoxicated. “I had to move back in with my mother,” the 28-year-old said. “I sleep on an air mattress on the floor.”
Youst’s story is one of several that [his] attorney… said she uncovered while investigating the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. “It’s hard to quantify all of the hurt and the wrong that’s been done to him because of this simple mistake that they refused to fix… His case did not have to happen. They knew about these types of mistakes a year before.”
[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…