The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently began overturning old convictions based on this episode, starting with instances where evidence was destroyed post-conviction, making retesting impossible. The general counsel at the Texas Forensic Science Commission has estimated that evidence was destroyed in 25-50% of cases where Jonathan Salvador performed testing. In several cases, however, including, e.g., one styled Ex Parte Patrick Lynn Hobbs, the high court ruled that, "While there is evidence remaining that is available to retest in this case, that evidence was in the custody of the lab technician in question. This Court believes his actions are not reliable; therefore custody was compromised, resulting in a due process violation. Applicant is therefore entitled to relief." In other words, it may not matter whether evidence is available for retesting or not.
If the court continues to apply that standard then virtually every case in which Mr. Salvador performed testing - some 4,944 cases in all from 36 counties - will be overturned because the evidence was tainted just by being in his custody! Truly, this is a mind boggling development, rivaling a similar episode in Massachusetts which has received much more publicity. The average sentence of defendants among the first 12 writs approved was eight years. If that average holds, nearly 40,000 years worth of drug sentences may eventually be overturned. Can you even imagine? How is it that Grits is the only media outlet covering this?
I'd earlier suggested that enough inmates could be released from Texas prisons as a result of this unmitigated mess to allow the state to close an additional prison unit. But if the Court of Criminal Appeals handles all of Salvador's cases like they did Mr. Hobbs', the state might be able to close three or four of them. Stay tuned. This astonishing debacle has only just begun to play out.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- DPS crime lab SNAFU may overturn thousands of years worth of drug sentences
- Convictions overturned based on DPS lab worker misconduct, hundreds more likely to be challenged
- Bad apple at DPS crime lab could spoil barrel of convictions
- DPS analyst who faked results worked on 4,944 drug cases
- Drug analyst at DPS crime lab issued erroneous reports