Something’s Rotten When A State Expert Takes The Fifth
October 25, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A truism of criminal defense is the state’s expert witnesses carry an added layer of credibility defense experts never see. This extra veneer of righteousness comes from the misguided notion the State’s experts are there to put away bad guys who did nasty things. That’s why, when a State expert asserts his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, lawyers all over the country pay attention.
The expert in question is Christopher Youngkin, a Forensic Blood Analyst for Texas’s Department of Public Safety. Youngkin is responsible for testing the blood alcohol content in a DWI defendant’s blood after it’s drawn and testifying about the results in court. An email from Dallas-based attorney Hunter Biederman* alleges Youngkin is the analyst “on probably over 10,000 blood test cases.” One of those cases was a 2013 incident where Youngkin switched blood vials in two cases, giving a defendant a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 when she had none in her body.
Local police notified Youngkin of the error, and the Texas DPS named an investigator who issued a “quality action plan” identifying Christopher Youngkin as the person involved with the error. The investigator determined the blood switching case to be an isolated incident, and Youngkin notified the District Attorney’s office of the error. No harm, no foul, until Youngkin took the stand in an October, 2016 DWI case in Collin County, Texas and stated under oath he’d never switched vials during a test for blood alcohol content.
According to the “Motion for Speedy Rehearing” filed by Hunter Biederman on October 13, Christopher Youngkin’s testimony is inconsistent with two previous hearings. During a July, 2015 hearing, Youngkin testified under oath he’d never switched vials. A September, 2016 trial saw the “Forensic Blood Analyst” walk back his previous statement and say he did switch blood vials at one point. Finally, during the hearing on October 12, 2016, Youngkin stated once again he’d never switched vials during a test for blood alcohol content. When presented with statements to the contrary, Youngkin exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and asked for time to consult an attorney.
This is bigger than just the current case, because of the Brady violations in play. Fault Lines contributors regularly discuss Brady violations and what to do when they occur, because it involves evidence withheld by the prosecution or cops that could potentially cause a trier of fact to not find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, Christopher Youngkin’s inconsistent statements are the tip of the iceberg. Counsel for defendant Tyler Avaritt weren’t notified of the “quality action plan,” any indication of Youngkin’s alleged “isolated incident,” or other documents until Tyler Avaritt’s case was set for trial, and even then the prosecution turned over a flimsy email regarding the gaffe in blood testing.
On 5/16/13 Chris Youngkin was replacing the gray top tubes into the DPS Blood Kits when it was noticed that the tubes for these two cases were out of numerical order. A retest of these two cases indicated that the tubes were switched before the sampling of the evidence thereby resulting in the wrong results being reported. DPS reviewed the situation and considered it an isolated incident.
During the October 12 hearing, the defense counsel attempted to offer into evidence a version of the “Quality Action Plan” outlining Youngkin’s gaffe back in 2013. The prosecution countered by offering their own version of the Quality Action Plan containing more information than the defense. This should, according to Brady v. Maryland, have been turned over long before trial. It was not, and calls into question the credibility of Collins County, Texas’ prosecutors for failing to disclose Youngkin’s “switch” prior to trial.
Christopher Youngkin’s credibility is shot as well for the duration of this trial, and possibly others. When County Court at Law Judge Lance S. Baxter advised Youngkin of his right to remain silent and consult an attorney, it served as a strong indicator the Judge didn’t think it was a good idea the longtime DPS blood analyst to speak any further. When Youngkin invoked those rights, putting Tyler Avaritt’s trial on hold while he called a lawyer to consult his options, it invoked a strong sense of serious wrongdoing by Youngkin.
With allegedly “thousands of cases” where Youngkin tested blood samples now in question, Christopher Youngkin’s decision to consult with an attorney and invoke his Fifth Amendment rights places doubts in the head of every trier of fact and defense attorney who had Youngkin as an “expert witness” during a trial on edge. If what he said was so egregious he felt it necessary to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, what else does he have to hide? This is a tough hurdle for the State, and Youngkin, to overcome in the current case and others.
A three-year-old inconsistency during a blood test, followed by confrontation of inconsistent testimony under oath regarding those tests, led to a “credible” Texas “Forensic Blood Analyst” being shaken so bad he took the Fifth and asked for time to consult an attorney before a misdemeanor DWI trial could proceed. This brings to mind the musings of noted legal scholars Mobb Deep, who once stated the following regarding situations like the one in which Christopher Youngkin now finds himself.
Son they shook
They scared to death, they scared to look
‘Cause ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks.
*Fault Lines reached out to Attorney Hunter Biederman prior to publication of this post, and received no comment.