Friday, January 25, 2013

Judge recommends habeas relief in conviction based on junk arson science

Following a habeas hearing in district court discussed earlier on Grits, Judge George Allen in McLennan County has recommended a new trial based on expert testimony that the arson investigation in the two-decade old case was profoundly flawed. See related coverage:
Graf's case will be the first time the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will consider whether a defendant convicted based on junk arson science may be entitled to habeas relief, or at least the first since the whole controversy over the Todd Willingham case brought international attention to the subject. But precedents at the high court are all over the map regarding whether such convictions can be overturned when the science changes or improves, and several judges on the CCA think it shouldn't be allowed. The Texas Legislature this spring will consider a bill (expected to be filed next week) to close that gap in state habeas law to clarify that new, potentially exonerating scientific evidence can provide a basis for post-conviction relief. The measure is one of two recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions that the Legislature has not yet acted upon (the other is to require police to record custodial interrogations). For Graf's sake, and others similarly situated, I hope it passes this time around.

This morning Grits is headed to the Forensic Science Commission meeting where they'll hear a presentation on the status of the arson review being conducted by the state fire marshal and my employers at the Innocence Project of Texas. After the politicized brouhaha surrounding the Todd Willingham case, it's a welcome relief to see these topics addressed in a calmer, more thoughtful and systematic fashion. But unless and until the Legislature or the court clarifies that false convictions can be overturned based on new, exonerating science, it's impossible to envision how the end-game will play out, either in Graf's case or others involved in the arson review.


Anonymous said...

I (heart) Judge Allen

Double Fake Cameron Todd Willingham

Brad Walters said...

The CCA is probably scared to death of opening the flood gates for wrongful convictions due to junk science. Imagine all of the DWI convictions that would be overturned by recognizing the junk science involved in the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and breath test machines subject to undetected errors and false assumptions like partition ratios being the same for all. That would make an awful lot of work correcting all of those injustices ....after all most of them are just misdemeanors; just small but permanent injustices. So just move along. Nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

One of the overriding problems with the use of scientific evidence in courts is the lack of attorneys that have anything a background in the hard sciences, and mathematics. This problem is cubed for judges serving on the bench of Texas courts.

Frankly, there should be no connection what so ever between scientific investigations of crimes and law enforcement agencies. Independent scientific inquiries ought to be the norm, with the goal being only the determination of the truth as per physical evidence.

The Fishing Physicist

Anonymous said...

Excellent Point about Junk Science, as practised by Law enforcement and REAL SCIENCE, whereas in Cop Science you can tailor the outcome to fit the desired results.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

So let me make sure Im understanding this. If science improves and we find out in the future that a person is not guilty and we are now able to prove they didnt commit the crime, we should leave them in prison, with no legal recourse to have the conviction squashed because we cant afford to pay the lawsuits that will be filed?

Have we actually come to this point? would we leave a not guilty person in prison knowingly?

Have these people lost their ever loving minds?????

I must not have read that correctly because for a person to actually suggest that in a courtroom or legislative body would I think be grounds for their immediate arrest and imprisonment for kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, malicious prosecution, just too many charges to be counted. Actually I think any person who had an opinion like that should be required to serve the persons sentence for them, not fair you say?? Its just as fair as leaving that person in jail , just as fair as requiring them to spend 1 more minute under the thumb of the people who are among the rank and file officers of TDCJ.

Who are these cretins????????

Grandmom said...

Who are the cretins? you ask. The cretins are the police and DA's who decide on the guilt of suspects. No evidence? No problem. Just create some, or pay someone to create some. 8 out of 10 times, they probably get it right. But that other 20%, now that's a problem. Just fix it so a jury believes the bogus evidence, or a coerced confession, or imagined eyewitness memory, or jailhouse snitch lies and/or bad forensic science, then pass laws that prevent appeals based on that bogus evidence, and you never have to explain why you never get convictions overturned. Then the cretins, like Ken Anderson, get promoted to judge! Anonymous got it right: disconnect scientific investigations from law enforcement.