Wrongful Conviction

JUSTICE UNDER CONTINUED ATTACK: CORRUPT POLICE, LYING WITNESSES, COMPLICIT PROSECUTORS AND FABRICATED TEST RESULTS

Michael Cosme, Devon Ayers and Carlos Perez were freed from prison in the night hours of January 23, 2013. Eighteen years ago they had been sent to a New York state prison for a crime they did not commit. They were convicted of killing a cab driver and a FedEx executive. They would have died in prison had it not been for an NBC Dateline investigation that brought national media attention to their case and prompted prosecutors to find out that two gang members had confessed to committing the double murder.

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SUPREME COURT PUNTS ON “ACTUAL INNOCENCE” ISSUE, AGAIN

What does “actual innocence” actually mean? It means quite simply that an innocent person has been wrongfully convicted for a crime that he/she did not commit. It is a subject-matter we have devoted significant attention to in recent years, given that 302 persons have been exonerated through DNA evidence since 1989. This past year alone we posted three articles trying to tackle and pin down this issue which stalks our criminal justice system like an Ebola virus (here, here, and here). Why the continued interest?

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“ACTUAL INNOCENCE”

Determining Eligibility for Compensation for Wrongful Conviction and Incarceration

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

The Tim Cole Act (TCA) was named after Timothy Cole, a former Texas Tech student who was wrongfully convicted in 1986 of rape in Lubbock, Texas. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, died in prison in 1999, posthumously exonerated in 2009, and granted the State’s first posthumous pardon by Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 (here). The TCA, formerly known as the Texas Wrongful Imprisonment Act, was enacted in 2009, some seven months after Cole’s exoneration. It is hoped to be one of the nation’s premier pieces of legislation compensating individuals wrongfully imprisoned. Under the act, a wrongfully imprisoned person is entitled to compensation if the person 1) has served in whole or in part a sentence in prison under the laws of Texas, and 2) has been granted habeas relief on a court determination that he is “actually innocent” of the crime for which he was imprisoned.

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THE TIMOTHY COLE LEGACY

Lessons of Exonerations Fade, Reforms Needed

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

Imagine, if you can, being falsely accused of a crime, particularly a heinous crime like an aggravated sexual assault of a child or murder. Comprehend, if you can, facing first a jury of your peers who wrongly find you guilty and then a judge who sentences you to a long term of imprisonment or to a life sentence without the benefit of parole, or, worse yet, to a death sentence. Realize, if you can, that a shoddy law enforcement investigation and “convict as any costs” prosecutor were responsible for your wrongful conviction. Shudder, if you can, about the thought of being shackled in handcuffs and leg irons transported to prison in a caged bus or van. 5A82NF5PQ5FT And, cry, if you can, at the thought of dying in prison knowing that all your pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears.

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EXONERATION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Prosecutors Resist Claims of Innocence Despite Growing Number Exonerations

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

Being wrongfully charged with a crime has immediate and severe personal implications. It results in an arrest: an arrest creates disdain from friends (even family members); an arrest often creates an inability to provide for the family; an arrest, depending upon nature of offense, means either no bail or an inordinately high bail; an arrest creates a need to retain an skilled attorney, or learn how to deal with a lawyer whose eyes are focused on a “plea bargain;” and an arrest produces the terrible psychological and emotional toll of facing a jury of twelve people, most of whom have already assumed guilt.

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CASES OF BRADY VIOLATIONS AND PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

We have maintained a continuing interest in cases dealing with Brady violations and prosecutorial misconduct. We have compiled a comprehensive, although not exhaustive, review of federal and Texas cases dealing with these issues that are important to lawyers representing client in criminal cases.

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FEDERAL PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT: CONVICT AT ANY COSTS

Reversal Warranted Only if Prosecutor’s Misconduct Cast Serious Doubt on Jury’s Verdict, Prejudicially Affect Substantial Rights of the Defendant

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

In our prior post, we discussed a Texas case which reflects why there is little, if any, systemic or meaningful judicial oversight of prosecutorial misconduct. The case of Maria Aide Delgado offers a glimpse at how the Federal appellate system—at least in the Fifth Circuit—deals with prosecutorial misconduct. This case offers little encouragement that Federal appellate courts will ever have the legal and ethical fortitude to address the cancer of prosecutorial misconduct head-on. Either excusing or ignoring the misconduct seems to be the prevailing judicial view.

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PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT GOES UNPUNISHED IN TEXAS

Preserving Error in Cases of “Contumacious” Prosecutorial Misconduct

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

Let us say at the outset that many prosecutors are fine, decent people who honorably fulfill their charged task of seeking the truth and justice—to convict the guilty and free the innocent. They believe in a fair testing of their case in our adversarial criminal trial process. We respect prosecutorial zeal, even though we’re always on the other side.

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A MODEL ACT TO IMPROVE THE PRACTICE OF CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS

Preventing Wrongful Convictions by Legislating Prosecutorial Accountability

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

Angela Davis, professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and former head of the D.C. public defender’s office, was quoted in the Washington Post last October as saying: Prosecutors “are the most powerful officials in our criminal justice system. They decide whether a person’s going to be charged, what to charge them with, whether there’s going to be a plea bargain and what the plea bargain will be. As they make those decisions, they exercise almost boundless discretion.”

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JUDGE IN MICHAEL MORTON CASE FACES “COURT OF INQUIRY”

Investigation of Intentional Prosecutorial Misconduct by Williamson County DA’s Office

By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

In the 1980s Michael Morton was wrongfully, and unjustly, convicted of the murder of his wife (here and here). To say that prosecutorial misconduct was the primary reason for Morton’s conviction would be the proverbial understatement. This past October Williamson County District Judge Sid Harle ordered Morton released from the Texas prison system where he had been confined the previous 24 years. Morton’s release was triggered by DNA evidence that exonerated him for his wife’s murder. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who has never been a champion of seeing innocent men freed, fought tooth ‘n nail to keep the DNA evidence in Morton’s case from being tested, despite the that the district attorney’s files contained compelling evidence beyond the DNA evidence that Morton was innocent. It has been widely speculated that Bradley not only “slow played” the DNA evidence tests but withheld the other evidence supporting Morton’s claim of innocence to protect his longstanding legal associate and friend Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, who was the lead prosecutor in the Morton case and the primary target of prosecutorial misconduct charges—charges so serious that the Texas State Bar has announced it has undertaken an disciplinary investigation into Anderson’s conduct in the Morton case.

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