Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Court to consider how broadly to apply new Texas junk science writ

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow morning in Ex Parte Robbins, the court's first opportunity to decide how narrowly or broadly it will interpret the state's new junk science writ enshrined in statute by the Texas Legislature last year.

The CCA heard the case once before and turned Neal Robbins down 5-4, but then the Lege passed the junk science writ, with testimony at the hearings largely focused on the Robbins case; see this item from the Texas Bar Journal and my own written testimony to the Lege on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas.

Edgar Walters at Texas Tribune has a brief preview of the case in which your correspondent was quoted, though somewhat incompletely. I did tell Walters that "prosecutors originally fought the bill — which failed both in 2009 and 2011 — because they thought it was unnecessary," but he failed to add that it was the CCA's ruling in exactly this case that caused prosecutors to back off and agree to the bill's passage. The court's ruling in Ex Parte Robbins made clear the CCA would allow convictions based on junk science to stand if the Legislature didn't change the law. After Robbins, the Harris County DA's office (which had been the only significant opposition) acquiesced and helped negotiate the final language that's now in the statute. It would be ironic if Robbins did not now prevail, since this particular case was the one that pushed the bill over the finish line at the Lege.

This is the same new statute under which the San Antonio Four and Fran and Dan Keller were released - they're now out on bail though the CCA hasn't given final approval in those cases yet. Those junk science cases are considered more likely to be easily approved, while the Robbins case - which involves an ME who gave erroneous testimony and changed her opinion after she learned more science - is considered the first test case that will provide an indication how the CCA will interpret the new writ.

See an amicus brief from the Innocence Project of Texas and prior, related Grits coverage:

1 comment:

"Red" Merriweather Coast said...

I'd really love to get something like that here in Nevada.