Tag Archives: Toxicology

test tubes with blood on a tray

DWI Forensic Expert Accused of Perjury and Mixing Up Results

Christopher Youngkin, a forensic analyst in Texas, has been accused of perjury and mixing up lab test results. Youngkin is one of the leading forensic analysts for the Department of Public Safety in Garland, Texas. The lab where Youngkin works is responsible for blood alcohol content testing and other tests in seven counties in Texas: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Tarrant, Rockwall, Cooke and Grayson. The thousands of DWI convictions where Youngkin testified at trial could now be in jeopardy.

Court documents show that Youngkin mixed up the blood alcohol tests on suspected DWI cases in 2013. A report that Youngkin sent to the police showed that a woman who had not consumed any alcohol had a blood alcohol level that was almost two times the legal limit. The error was soon discovered, the samples were retested, and no one was harmed. However, local defense attorneys are now questioning how that error has been handled and whether Youngkin has given conflicting testimony on the matter.

The Hearing

According to a partial transcript of a hearing on the matter, defense attorney Troy Burleson questioned Youngkin about a case in Dallas County in which he testified that he had switched vials in 2013. Burleson then questioned Youngkin about conflicting testimony given in Collin County, where he reported that he had never switched vials.

At Youngkin’s hearing, County Court at Law Judge Lance S. Baxter advised Youngkin that he had the right to remain silent and the right to consult an attorney. Youngkin invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The Response

DWI Attorney Deandra Grant said that Youngkin has testified multiple times about these trials and given conflicting testimony.

Defense attorney George Milner has said that one of his clients was recently acquitted in a DWI case where Youngkin admitted his error.

Grant and Milner say that they now question the validity of Youngkin’s tests and testimony in other cases.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety has refused to comment on the allegations, saying, “it would not be appropriate for us to discuss at this point. The relevant facts will be argued in a courtroom, which is the appropriate venue for an ongoing case.”

Retired Judge John Creuzot has commented that a finding of inconsistent testimony is serious. He explained, “The DA’s office, if they find out that their witness has committed perjury, they may want to recuse themselves because they have an intimate relationship by having used him as a witness in the past… It may be more appropriate to ask the judge to appoint a special prosecutor.”

Neither the Collin County nor Dallas County district attorney’s offices would respond to the specific allegations against Youngkin. The Dallas County district attorney’s office commented that this is an evolving matter that will continue to monitor.

This controversy comes just weeks after the Harris County toxicologist, Dr. Fessessework Guale, resigned after her academic qualifications were questioned. Dr. Guale had regularly testified in Houston-area DWI cases.

test tubes with blood on a tray

Toxicology Expert Discredited and Cases Are in Jeopardy

Toxicology expert, Dr. Fessessework Guale, has been accused of lying on the stand. The cases in which Dr. Guale has testified are now in jeopardy.

Gaule’s Degree

Dr. Guale claimed to have a Masters of Science degree in Toxicology from Oklahoma State University. However, according to a notice sent by the Harris County District Attorney’s office, “Dr. Fessessework Guale of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences may have testified in past trials that she received her Master’s (sic) of Science degree in Toxicology when, in fact, she received her Master’s (sic) of Science degree in Physiological Sciences (with coursework and research in toxicology).” The District Attorney’s Office is now requesting that defense attorneys review 10 years of their DWI cases to search for erroneous testimony from Dr. Guale.

Dr. Guale’s resume shows that her degree is from a veterinary college and that her doctorate is in veterinary medicine from an Ethiopian veterinary school. Guale has been employed since 2006 with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which is the county’s medical examiner’s office. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences says that its hiring manager should have noticed Dr. Guale’s degree discrepancies on her resume and job applications. That manager left the office before this controversy surfaced.

Jeff McShan, spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, has stated that prosecutors are still trying to determine how many cases Guale testified in as an expert. Records from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences show that Guale has testified in 33 cases dating back to 2011.

Responding to the questions about her credentials, Guale stated, “I did not lie. It’s just a misunderstanding. I actually told the truth.” When questioned about her claim to have a Masters in toxicology, she responded, “My Masters is in Physiological Sciences which toxicology is a sub-discipline of.” Guale also noted that she is board certified in forensic toxicology and claims that the basic science behind the effects of alcohol is the same in animals and humans. Guale’s expert witness testimony has been about defendants’ blood alcohol content.

Community Response

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA) is requesting that criminal charges be brought against Guale for perjury. Commenting on Guale’s resume, HCCLA President Tyler Flood has stated, “That’s a lie, she has a masters in physiological sciences… But when you look closer it doesn’t relate to humans.” Flood also opined, “It’s very disturbing because there are people who are charged with felony offenses … and they can be convicted and go to jail or prison based on her testimony. And she’s not qualified to be talking about this subject.”

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences stated that Guale is being retrained and that it remains confident in her abilities. It has stood behind Guale, stating that she has taken part in continuing education in forensic toxicology and “has earned certification by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology reflecting her knowledge, training, and experience in forensic toxicology… Dr. Fessessework Guale is fully qualified to hold her current position … and to provide expert testimony in court.”

Lab Analysts May Be Required to Testify in Person in Criminal Trials

Discarded Evidence May Lead to Dismissal of a Murder Trial

Ronald Melnik has been in jail for over 5 years awaiting trial for the shooting death of Reza Payan at a 2011 Fort Lauderdale New Year’s party. Melnik was charged with second-degree murder. His defense attorney is now seeking dismissal of that charge based on evidence that has been destroyed.

Motion to Dismiss

In 2015, Melnik’s defense attorney, David Bogenschutz, wanted to independently test the sample of Payan’s blood because he did not trust the toxicology result. The report showed no foreign substances in Payan’s blood, but witness testimony indicated that Payan had consumed alcohol and marijuana that night. Bogenschutz also noticed a crime scene photo that showed a brass vial that later tested positive for ecstasy was located near Payan’s body.

When he found out that the sample had been discarded, he filed a motion to dismiss. In filing the motion to dismiss, Bogenschutz stated, “Respectfully, this is a constitutional blunder of enormous magnitude and far-reaching consequences.”

Bogenschutz was not the first to bring up the constitutional ramifications of discarding potential evidence. According to court filings, in January 2013, a now retired-Broward homicide prosecutor Brian Cavanagh emailed his colleagues that the new disposal policy “presents a significant ‘destruction of evidence’ problem when the defense wants to assert their right under the discovery rules to have a sample inspected and tested by their own expert.”

Standard Practice to Discard Evidence

At the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office, it is standard practice to discard specimens after one year. Officials say this is to save storage space and based on the limited shelf life of refrigerated specimens. This is also in accordance with the state’s administrative code.

The Broward County Medical Examiner who implemented this one-year standard, Dr. Craig Mallak, said that this is based upon state and national medical examiners’ guidelines. He said, “Even at a year, you’re really rolling the dice…This isn’t a static piece of evidence, this is biology.” Mallak is a physician and former Armed Forces medical examiner. He holds degrees in law and medicine from Creighton University and a bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University in criminalistics.

The Broward County Medical Examiner’s office has previously come under criticism for lack of accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners, demands placed on staff that detract from death investigations, and poor management of case evidence.

In the nearby Miami-Dade County, the standard policy is to keep bodily fluid toxicology samples for five years. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner and treasurer of the Florida Association of Medical Examiners, Dr. Michael Bell, also keeps toxicology samples for five years in cases of homicide and undetermined death. However, Bell also states that the five-year period is “probably arbitrary” and not indicative of the quality of samples that are kept for long periods of time. Bell stated, “There may be drugs present that may be detected, but I think the concentrations are likely not to be accurate…Any interpretation beyond ‘yeah, those drugs are present,’ is probably going to be tenuous.”