Hurricane Harvey’s toll on evidence held for trials may be a windfall for the accused

A crime lab investigator carries bags of evidence past markers on the road at the scene of a shooting in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. Two women were shot to death and six people were wounded early Saturday at a house party in Omaha. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

As Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters rose, they didn’t discriminate against homes, businesses and even the local bat colony. Now months following the storm, the true toll on the Harris County court system is only just coming to light.

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During the storm, the Harris County Courthouse Annex on Cypresswood reportedly took on three to four feet of water, which saturated everything in its path. Along with furniture and walls, about 15,000 pieces of evidence were affected.

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Following the storm, authorities scrambled to move the evidence to a secret, secure location where it could be sorted and saved for upcoming trials.

Just after the storm, Harris County officials confirmed evidence was missing or destroyed in 11 cases, though only four were outstanding.

“Following the unprecedented flooding at our Cypresswood office during Hurricane Harvey, where up to three feet of water breached the building and property room,” Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said in a statement after the storm,”Our office determined four open cases were affected. Our office immediately notified the Offices of the County Attorney and District Attorney office.”

The evidence was described as a drug scale, spent shell-casings, a half-smoked joint and a forged check.

However, authorities are reportedly confirming other evidence was lost or partially destroyed. Herman confirmed to KPRC that guns, money and other evidence were also submerged in water.

The damaged evidence reportedly affects approximately 13 cases at this time.

“There was some evidence that did get wet that was submerged in the water. There was some missing items from the evidence packets once the flood took place,” Herman told KPRC.

Similarly, the Houston Police Department also took on water during Harvey due to a leaky roof. However, officials with the department told news outlets no evidence stored in their facility was affected.

Damaged evidence can be a windfall for defendants.

“In a lot of cases, it can help [defendants]. If that evidence is destroyed and they don’t have that evidence, [prosecutors] can’t make their case,” Tucker Graves, the President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association, told Eyewitness news.

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