Monday, January 13, 2014

Autopsy report from ME indicted for making false statements under oath can't come into evidence unless she testifies, except it did

Via TDCAA, somehow I'd missed that a now-former assistant medical examiner in Harris County, Dr. Luisa Florez, had been indicted for making false statements under oath, apparently related to a loan application. (See coverage here.) Her husband has since been convicted and sent to federal prison "for conspiring to obtain approximately $1 million in disaster relief funds by fraudulent means." Florez's case has not yet reached its denouement.

The issue arose because a Harris County district judge allowed a report from an autopsy she performed to be entered into evidence in a murder trial (Lee v. State). "The jury was not made aware of the indictment, however, because the State chose to have another medical examiner, Dr. Robert Milton, relay the findings of Dr. Florez‘s report." The Fourteenth Court of Appeals ruled this was a Confrontation Clause violation, holding "that autopsy reports are testimonial and the defendant must be allowed to cross-examine the medical examiner who created them." (Read the opinion.)

However, the court held that the error was "harmless" because "ample additional evidence established appellant‘s guilt" and Dr. Milton's testimony "was mostly undisputed." Further, "although the autopsy report might have added credence to Dr. Milton‘s testimony that wounds caused by appellant‘s rifle, standing alone, could have caused complainant‘s death, that determination was not important to appellant‘s liability as a party." Though IANAL, their conclusion seems a bit odd to me since Dr. Milton's conclusions, which the court said were allowable, were based on Dr. Florez's report. But I'm never surprised when a Texas appellate court overlooks constitutional errors as "harmless" to uphold a conviction.

Who knows how many autopsies Dr. Florez performed? In the future, at least within the jurisdiction of the 14th Court of Appeals, her reports can't come into evidence unless the state puts her on the stand to testify, which given her indictment for making false statements under oath seems unlikely, at best. According to TDCAA's case summary, "Take from this case the lesson that maybe the State can get another expert to present testimony, but that will not allow bootstrapping a report otherwise inadmissible under the Confrontation Clause."

1 comment:

dfisher said...


Luisa Florez was a Colombian illegally in the country when she was hired by the Harris CO ME's office. Florez came to the U.S. under a medical student visa, but stayed after completing her medical training.

The Harris Co Me's office became aware of this problem after Florez performed the autopsies on the two illegal immigrants from Colombia, that Joe Horn shot back in Nov. 2007.

To become a U.S. citizen quickly, Florez married a Jewish American real estate investor in Israel, but made the mistake of going through France on her return flight to the U.S. French authorities arrested Florez and held her for three weeks before the U.S. ambassador obtained her release.(Traveling on a void U.S. Student Visa)

After returning to Houston in January 2008, Florez signed the two autopsy reports associated with the Joe Horn shooting on April 13, 2008.

Florez new husband was defrauding the U.S. Government by filing false hurricane Rita damage claims, which Florez aided him in doing, thus her federal arrest.

It appears this marriage was a quid pro quo. The marriage solved Florez's immigration problem and her husband got a partner in crime.

As for Dr. Roger Milton, currently he is the only Harris CO ME who is not board certified in either anatomic, clinical or forensic pathology even though it is, and has been the policy requirement of the ME's office since he was hired in 1998.

The Star-Telegram reported this in their 2009 series on TX Medical Examiners. The article stated:

"A forensic pathologist employed by Harris County also lacks board certification, even though the medical examiner’s office says it requires such credentials. The physician "has amply demonstrated his expertise during his tenure, and the requirement for certification has been waived for him," a county official said."

How can a county have a policy for it's medical examiners, but waive it for one person? I find it curious that Milton was one of 2 ME's brought from the the Washington DC ME's office by Joye Carter. The other is Harris CO Chief ME Louis Sanchez.

Question, What does Roger Milton know that makes him exempt from the policy requirements of the other Harris CO ME's?